J.M. Coetzee published Disgrace in 1999, receiving his second Booker Award for the novel set in post-apartheid South Africa. The already-celebrated author received even more kudos for this harsh and violent take on the role whites had in South Africa and what was the price to be paid for apartheid. In Disgrace, the price is the rape of a white woman by several black men. However, the novel doesn’t follow the woman – it follows her sexually-depraved father who is struggling with a changing landscape that he can’t control. The rape is an unseen trauma – an empty space in the novel, a lacuna – and Lucy silent. Enter Fiona Snyckers’s Lacuna (Europa Editions 2022 – Pan Macmillan South Africa 2019). Snyckers not only gives Lucy a voice, she writes directly back to the man himself. She’s not going to let Lucy live like a dog – she’s going to let her live like a victim. (Lucy refuses to call herself a survivor.)
Lacuna is a work of fiction about an author named John Coetzee. When a colleague, Lucy Lurie, is attacked and gang raped while visiting her father, Coetzee claims her story and writes Disgrace. Coetzee used Lucy’s rape to make a statement about post-apartheid South Africa, and Lucy feels as if she’s been violated twice – her voice stolen from her and replaced with a narrative she does not support. She’s denied her voice. Her emotions. Her right to be angry. She’s told to be more like “fiction-Lucy.”
Snyckers’s Lucy is an unreliable narrator with PTSD and a vivid imagination. She pictures confronting Coetzee at his home in Australia. She envisions how she will testify at trial. She imagines a world in which she, like Coetzee’s Lucy, became pregnant following the rape. Sessions with her therapist are not to be trusted. Her very story isn’t to be trusted, and she know this; it is her story and she will tell it how she pleases.
Disgrace is one of my more recommended novels, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed Lacuna nearly as much without having read and admired Disgrace. I recommend you read them back-to-back – they are bookends to a story that blends and merges and bleeds and screams, and I can no longer imagine one without the other.
Read this book.