15 December 2012


Locus Focus: Take Eighty-Four!

We're still doing Dining Rooms today, in line with the Top Secret December Theme, and I wanted to share a bit more about my "method" of doing Locus Focus.

Although last week's dining room came from a book I was reading for the first time (See Take Eighty-Three!), I get most of my featured settings from books I read in the past. What I do is stand in front of one of my bookcases, do a general scan of book spines, and let the titles exercise my memory. Some of them have great settings that I wouldn't have remembered off the top of my head. Today's dining room is one of these. 

The Isaacs Family's Dining Room
by J.M. Coetzee

"Mr. Isaacs, I am just causing upset in your home," he says. "It was kind of you to invite me, I appreciate it, but it is better that I leave."

Isaacs gives a smile in which, to his surprise, there is a hint of gaiety. Sit down, sit down! We'll be all right! We will do it!" He leans closer. "You have to be strong!"

Then Desiree and her mother are back, bearing dishes: chicken in a bubbling tomato stew that gives off aromas of ginger and cumin, rice, an array of salads and pickles. Just the kind of food he most missed . . .

The bottle of wine is set before him, and a solitary wine glass.

"Am I the only one drinking?" he says.

"Please," says Isaacs. "Go ahead."

We see very little of this room except the food on the table and the people gathered around it. But these are the two most essential elements of a dining room, anyway--and anything which distracts from them would just be usurping the drama of supper. In this particular dining room, the food is wonderful and the Isaacs family is welcoming, if slightly unsure, but their guest, disgraced professor David Lurie, could not be more uncomfortable. And it's not just because he brought a bottle of wine to a family that turned out to be teetotal.

A few months earlier, Lurie seduced one of his students, who was Mr. Isaacs's eldest daughter. She almost dropped out of school because of it, and when word of the affair got out, he ended up resigning from his job. When he finally approached Mr. Isaacs, with motives as unclear to the reader as they seem to be to him, the latter invited him to dinner. We can read it as a sign of forgiveness--one that is doubly impressive given that Lurie hasn't even apologised yet.

There is so much more to Disgrace than the fall, confession, and search for absolution of a middle-aged man--and there is more to this dining room scene than an individual's desire to make things right with a particular family he has wronged. J.M. Coetzee has written a novel of history, politics and race relations in South Africa, and this dinner which (white, middle-class) Lurie shares with the (black, bourgeois) Isaacs family seems like the entire country--past, present, and perhaps even future--sitting down together . . . and finding it agonisingly difficult to do.

But the food is wonderful. No one has any quarrel with the food. Perhaps it's a start.

The Question of the Week was almost about which people you'd never want to have dinner with--not necessarily because you hate them, but because you disagree (respectfully or otherwise) with what they stand for and would rather not pretend to be chummy. But then I made my own list and realised that those were the people I most need to have a civil meal with. =P So I decided on something less personal and more abstract, although still potentially explosive . . .

Question of the Week: If the different historical or cultural factions of your country sat down to dinner, what food would they all enjoy eating?

Image Source: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee


Paul Stilwell said...

Poutine is the answer I'm supposed to officially give. But I don't believe it for one minute.

It is neat how that simple fare in the novel denotes the setting of dining room without having to describe.

Belfry Bat said...

Paul: Pancakes with maple syrup, surely?

Paul Stilwell said...

Yeah, I think that just might work. It's good because it also has that Knights of Columbus evocation to it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Stiwell -- I just looked up poutine and now I want some. =P But I've always been about chips.

Bat -- At first I was going to complain, "But that's breakfast!"--and then I remembered that I have had "breakfast for dinner" many times before. Some people just get "breakfast for dinner;" and now I guess Canadians are among them!

Shaz said...

I suspect they'd indugle in America's food of choice ... a fast-food burger. :-(

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm getting the sense that no one is really happy about the food that might just unite everyone in his country. National cuisine has degenerated, it seems!

Belfry Bat said...

It's just that "Turkey" Fowl (guess where the major Old World importers were!) seems to be the festive bird everywhere now, so it doesn't feel New World anymore.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm guessing they were in . . . Canada? =P

I don't think I've ever had turkey during a festive dinner, though.