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Foe [Paperback]

J Coetzee
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Foe Foe 3.9 out of 5 stars (11)
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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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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Lilting and surreal Jan. 30 2002
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 engaging story, but also offers existential and linguistic food for thought. The characters are written in a dream-like way; one isn't sure of their reality or hold on reality, but as the reader, I just kept wanting to know more.
I recommend this. It's lighter than Coetzee's Master of Petersburg, but it is a similar style to that book and evocative of the same emotions.
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2.0 out of 5 stars An exercise. July 13 2004
By algo41
One of those books which is more fun and rewarding to discuss than to read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting allegory but not Coetzee's best work July 6 2004
FOE is a retelling of Robinson Crusoe in a dense, moralistic tale narrated from a woman's point of view. Coetzee is not as good here as he is in Waiting for the Barbarians or The Life and Times of Michael K. This novel strikes me as an allegory of the writer's creative process: Defoe as writer (or creative vessel); The "heroine" as nurse; Friday as "dark side," resistent to communication; Crusoe as the idea that must be embellished. While I admire Coetzee's creativity and introspection, Foe is not up to Kundera's best works as far as self-referential themes are concerned. If you are a devotee of writing and the creative processes you might like this book; if not, I'd recommend you read Barbarians or Michael K.
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Complex Jan. 25 2001
By EriKa
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. I can attest to the fact that the novel is precise, erudite and detailed. A lovely work that requires consideration and time.
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