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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Foe by J. M. Coetzee 
25th-Aug-2006 09:23 pm
My first Coetzee novel, chosen solely because the plot synopsis intrigued me. On hindsight, it probably wasn't the greatest of choices. In any case, I definitely didn't get what I was expecting.

Coetzee, J. M. Foe. New York: Viking, 1987.
Summary: Once marooned on an island with the mysterious Robinson Cruso and his mute slave Friday, Sarah Barton returns to London after a futile search for her daughter determined to see either her or Cruso's story written down and recorded by author Daniel Foe and to liberate Friday. Both goals prove to be problematic as she struggles to see them executed and when Foe decides to rewrite her story--literally--by reuniting her with a girl who claims to be but is not her daughter.
Comments: what starts out as an entertaining and relatively unprofound revision of the classic castaway tale Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe soon morphs beyond recognition into authorship, who has the authority to tell whose story, and the oppression of both slavery and enforced freedom. Least controversial is the idea that none of the other characters have the right to tell Friday's story because none of them understand him; with this, I agree wholeheartedly--if others try to tell their stories in ignorance, even with the best of intentions, it's just another kind of oppression, so oppressed people should be empowered to tell their own stories in any way they can (and it does appear promising in the long term at the end as Friday practices writing the letter "o"). More tangled is the authorship feud between Sarah and Foe. Does she just passively inspire the narrative so that it takes whatever direction the Foe wants, or does she retain authority to decide what is and is not included...and what, in either case, is reality? Does the Muse inspire or merely beget? The instability between subject and object is especially interesting here due to the gender divide, of course. Naturally, Foe wants to tell Sarah's story, not Cruso's, because of the two only she had any interest in recording her experience for posterity. In this light, Cruso himself becomes a nebulous figure of questionable reality.
Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition (library book)
Rating: 7/10 - Great talking heads positioned in a reasonably interesting frame story.
1st-Sep-2006 05:21 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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