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Foe [Paperback]

J Coetzee
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 1996 King Penguin
'A small miracle of a book ...of marvellous intricacy and overwhelming power' - "The Washington Post", Book World. Coetzee reinvents the story of "Robinson Crusoe", directing our attention to the seduction and tyranny of storytelling itself.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This slim novel by the author of Waiting for the Barbarians is both a variant of Robinson Crusoe and a complex parable of art and life. PW noted that the characters' relationships are "an allegory of the evil social order that poisons the author's native South Africa."
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Cast adrift by a mutinous crew, Susan Barton washes ashore on an isle of classic fiction. For the next year, Robinson Cruso sculpts the land while Friday mutely watches Susan intrude upon their loneliness. Life is mere pattern for the two unquestioning castaways, but Susan is not of their story and she pushes Cruso for rationales that don't exist in a world of imagination. Finally rescued and returned to London, Susan leads Friday to Daniel Foe, the author who will write their tale. Foe, however, sees a different story and seeks "to tell the truth in all its substance." Discovering such truth is Coetzee's aim in Foe, an intriguing novel strikingly different from his earlier works. Here he scrutinizes the gulf between a story and its telling, giving us a thought-provoking text wonderfully rich in meaning and design. Paul E. Hutchison, English Dept., Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Who�s story is this anyway? Jan. 26 2004
"Foe" is a short yet complex and rewarding engagement with Daniel Defoe's classic account of the archetypal castaway Robinson Crusoe. Coetzee approaches the story of Crusoe as one of dubious genealogy - in "Foe" it is related by the opportunistic castaway Susan Barlow, a woman who found herself stranded on the island kingdom of a man named Cruso and his mute servant Friday. At the time of the novel's telling, Susan and Friday are in England where she is attempting to get the tale of her adventures retold by the embattled writer Daniel Foe.
The primary concern of this novel is the art of storytelling. It is a story that is almost painfully conscious of its status as a story; as a narrative, or rather, collection of narratives. As such, it is continually punctuated with other stories and echoes of other stories - fairy tales, myths, other novels - and is continually debating the ownership and authorship of the tale being told. This narrative reflexivity becomes most apparent when Foe acknowledges that they (the characters) are themselves the creations, 'puppets', of some 'conjurer unknown to us'.
The relationships between the four main characters - Susan, Cruso, Friday and Foe - are constantly explored in terms of master/slave dialectics. The mutual dependency central to the master/slave dialectic is emphasized continually and the four characters form a complex web of relationships with reciprocating obligations and reliances resonating through the text. The most interesting of these bonds is Susan's relationship with Friday - a man whom she frequently regards as lacking even the most basic status as a person yet depends on nonetheless. Tellingly, Friday's lack of a tongue dooms his 'story' to be forever lost.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Robinson Crusoe Re-Visioned May 2 2001
By mp
J.M. Coetzee is an extraordinarily gifted and insightful writer. The only other novel of his that I've read is "Life and Times of Michael K," but both that and this novel, "Foe" are sparse, beautiful, enigmatic works. "Foe" takes a postmodern look at Daniel Defoe's classic eighteenth-century novel, "Robinson Crusoe." Of course, reading Defoe's novel first gives you the fullest understanding of the background Coetzee is working from, but I believe that as much as anything, it is unnecessary to be intimately familiar with Defoe. Defoe's novel is an appropriate novel to rewrite because the plot is one that is ingrained into Western consciousness - everyone knows the basic story of shipwreck, survival, and rescue.
"Foe" takes such preconceived ideas and shows that although we may feel comfortable with that basic narrative, comfortability can cause us to take stories for granted and make us complacent readers. In "Foe," Coetzee turns the story, characters, and subject positions of Defoe's foundational novel on their heads to disrupt our ready notions of truth, trust, and story. The major question we ask throughout the very short novel is 'Who's story is the right one?' Is there ever one right story?
Coetzee turns the autocratic, garrulous, enterprising Robinson Crusoe into Cruso, a stoic castaway who no longer cares to leave his island and spends each day in a futile pursuit. He builds terraces where nonexistent future generations can plant imported seeds. Friday, Cruso's servant, is changed from a subservient, excitable islander to a former African slave who may or may not have a tongue and does not speak at all.
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By A Customer
Foe begins as a realistic retelling of Daniel Defoe's classic tale, though names and situations have been sufficiently altered make such a retelling in fact a reinvention. What begins as a straightforwardly realistic narration, ostensibly epistolary in form, becomes, in the end, a discursive metaphor for the act of storytelling itself. Susan Barton begins as narrator of the novel but ends it as muse to an author (named Foe) whose own narration has become canonical (even to the point of being widely-known but rarely read). The 1st 40 pages of the book are linear--the shipwreck, the washing-ashore, the meeting of Friday & Cruso (sic), and--finally--rescue. But the subsequent parts of the novel, though no less linear, become less about a tale of shipwreck survival than about a tale of narrative survival. Susan Barton begins battling the punningly-named Foe for the survival of her original conception of herself as Cruso's living successor, while Foe, becoming more authoritative than mere scribe of her exploits, posits such possibilities as her daughter's reunion with Susan and those details which actually appear in the Robinson Crusoe we all know. The tension and focus shift (almost imperceptibly) from what is (in Susan's mind) to what could be (in Foe's). Susan is transmogrified from an actual character to merely the muse--the ennervating inspiration--that drives Foe to write his book. In the end, what we get is the story of how a story shapeshifts into its final form and how its failed possibilities are no less alive than its successful ones. The novel dives into the wreck of Daniel Defoe's failed alternatives and succeeds by plumbing what depths _Robinson Crusoe_ (probably) did not
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars An exercise.
One of those books which is more fun and rewarding to discuss than to read.
Published on July 13 2004 by algo41
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting allegory but not Coetzee's best work
FOE is a retelling of Robinson Crusoe in a dense, moralistic tale narrated from a woman's point of view. Read more
Published on July 6 2004 by C. Myers
3.0 out of 5 stars To vex the literary world, Cruso as L'Etranger
First of all, I enjoyed this book. It's surreal and dreamy, and Cruso is a great character, undeserving of the scorn that has been heaped (in tiny, feckless,... Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2002 by Andrew Bruske
5.0 out of 5 stars Lilting and surreal
This slim volume was beautifully written and held a rich story. I have not read Robinson Crusoe, but I knew enough about the story to enjoy this version, that is a thoroughly... Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2002 by Stacey M Jones
2.0 out of 5 stars Almost as boring as Robinson Crusoe
This book was really boring. It had basically the same idea as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and the title, "FOE," came from Daniel DeFOE. Read more
Published on July 18 2001 by Valerie Lockhart
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex
A rich, rewarding and complex work. Coetzee weaves a masterful tale, which I will not re-examine as other reviewers have so successfully and succinctly done. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2001 by EriKa
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful compelling masterpiece..
I gaurantee that you won't be able to better spend 3-4 hours than to spend it reading this short novel! Read more
Published on July 12 2000 by "timdrake111"
5.0 out of 5 stars More enjoyable when you've read Robinson Crusoe
This is a fascinating book. About what it means to write and to be written -- to be a character and an author. Very much reminds me of Italo Calvino at points. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 1999
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