This is Coetzee's second book (after Life and Times of Michael K ) where man is broken down almost to nothing before he finds some tiny measure of redemption in his forced acceptance of the realities of life and death.  Coetzee has always situated his characters in extreme situations that compel them to explore what it means to be human.  Though the novel is sparse in style, it covers a number of topics: personal shame, the subjugation of women, a changing country, and romantic poetry and its allegory and symbolism . 
The constitution of the Roman republic gave the whole legislative power to the people, without allowing a negative voice either to the nobility or consuls. This unbounded power they possessed in a collective, not in a representative body. The consequences were: When the people, by success and conquest, had become very numerous, and had spread themselves to a great distance from the capital, the city-tribes, though the most contemptible, carried almost every vote: They were, therefore, most cajoled by every one that affected popularity: They were supported in idleness by the general distribution of corn, and by particular bribes, which they received from almost every candidate: By this means, they became every day more licentious, and the Campus Martius was a perpetual scene of tumult and sedition: Armed slaves were introduced among these rascally citizens; so that the whole government fell into anarchy, and the greatest happiness, which the Romans could look for, was the despotic power of the C æ ae originally 'æ'; separated to make searching the text easier sars . Such are the effects of democracy without a representative.