- Belling, Catherine
- Date of entry: May-08-2006
- Last revised: Dec-04-2006
David Lurie is a scholar of the English Romantic poets, now professor of communications in Cape Town in newly post-apartheid South Africa. He is fired in disgrace for sexual harassment after having an affair with one of his students, Melanie Isaacs, or raping her (our definition of the act is deliberately blurred until later). He goes to stay with his daughter, Lucy, who kennels dogs and grows flowers on a smallholding in the Eastern Cape, and he passes his time helping Lucy's friend, Bev, in the euthanasia and disposal of sick and unwanted dogs.
Then he and Lucy are attacked by three black men who arrive at the farm. They pour lighter fluid over him and set him on fire, and they gang-rape Lucy. One of the attackers is a relative of Lucy's neighbour, a black man named Petrus, and protected by him. Lucy refuses to press charges or to leave, but Lurie drives back to Cape Town.
On the way, he stops at the home of Melanie Isaacs and meets her father, who invites him to stay for dinner. He apologizes to her father, who asks him some difficult questions about forgiveness and about being in disgrace. There are parallels between him and Mr. Isaacs in relation to their respective raped daughters. In Cape Town Lurie finds that his house has been broken into and everything stolen.
When Bev calls him to say that Lucy is not well he goes back to the farm, where he discovers that she is pregnant as a result of the rape, has decided to keep the child, and intends to agree to Petrus's offer of marriage: if she becomes one of his wives, in name only, she will be allowed to stay on the farm (which he will now own) under his protection.
She resists all her father's objections. He finds a room in the town near her farm, continues to help Bev killing the dogs, and, while he awaits the birth of his grandchild, works on an opera he is writing, about the abandoned mistress of the poet Byron, who yearns for a time that is past.