Having already won the South African Literary Award for Best Novel in Snyckers’ homeland, Lacuna is releasing in Ireland now to a wave of rave reviews. Previously, the author has written several young adult novels and a thriller, but this time Snyckers has embarked on a feminist response to Disgrace., the masterpiece of Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee.
This is a formidable undertaking that presents many difficult challenges for the author that are not easily resolved. In Snyckers’ novel, Lucy Lurie, the victim of a brutal sexual assault in Disgrace, becomes the subject, criticizing his own lack of agency in Coetzee’s account of what happened.
Suffering from debilitating PTSD, Lucy becomes obsessed with Coetzee and is determined to set the record straight. She believes she is the gap that Coetzee left out in his novel – the missing piece of the puzzle. The intertextuality between the two works raises complex questions about appropriation of others’ stories, authorship, and creative license.
There is, of course, a long tradition of authors offering alternative perspectives on pre-existing texts – revising or adjusting the lens through which we view a narrative. Jean Rhys, for example, in Wide Sargasso Sea, the feminist and postcolonial prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, illuminates the source material, but the novel also functions as a literary triumph in its own right. Gap is less convincing in this regard. To appreciate the work of Snyckers, it is important to know that of Coetzee – particularly so that the reader can observe when Lacuna distorts what happens in the original novel.
Lucy is an unreliable narrator, so these discrepancies are likely a deliberate choice on the author’s part to highlight her mindset. If gap is to function as a form of fictional literary criticism, however, misrepresenting the text it challenges is problematic. Those who know Coetzee may find this premise an intriguing foil to Disgrace – there is certainly much to ponder in this ambitious and thought-provoking companion piece.
As a new standalone creation, however, it struggles to escape its predecessor’s shadow. If you’re tempted by Lucy Lurie and she’s a spirited and nurturing protagonist to spend time with, invest in Disgrace first and your experience will only be richer.