Ian GalaDali's Reviews > Foe

Foe by J.M. Coetzee
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's review
Feb 03, 16

it was amazing
bookshelves: coetzee, reviews-5-stars, reviews, read-2016
Read from January 11 to 12, 2016


Footprints in the Sand of Time:

Hello. You don't know me. I bought your book online. I don't know your name. I don't even know whether you're dead or alive. You made notations in the margin. I noticed them straight away: some were in pencil, some, later, when I looked, were in pen, although they might have been made by someone else. We started to note similar things and make similar comments. After a while, I started to make fewer comments, because I was content with yours. Either that, or I started to think like you, to walk in your footsteps. I'm a reader like you. You're a reader like me. Reader. Like me. Please. Whoever you are. I don't think there are many of us around. Let me know if you get this message. In the meantime, I'll try to write a review. I hope it's an OK one. I hope we like it.



Friend or Foe?

"Foe" raises fascinating metafictional ideas in a text that is just as economical (157 pages) as it is intellectually and aesthetically stimulating.

It's a postmodern reconstruction of "Robinson Crusoe" that asks questions about empire and colonialism, slavery and dominion, history and fictional narrative, especially its ownership: What is the story about? Whose story or perspective is it? Who is telling the story? Who owns the story that results?

Plantation and Quotation Marks

Coetzee tells his tale in four parts.

The first is wholly contained in quotation marks. It purports to be the perspective of Susan Barton, incidentally a character from a subsequent Daniel Defoe novel ("Roxana"), who in "Foe" ends up on the island with Cruso (sic) and Friday (whose tongue has been cut out by slavers).

The second is largely epistolary, being the letters written by Susan Barton to Foe, trying to get him to write her story for publication. Again, this section is in quotation marks.

The third is an almost Borgesian confrontation between Susan and Foe, which begins, "The staircase was dark and mean." There are no quotation marks around the section.

History and Heritage

The fourth begins with the words, "The staircase is dark and mean." It mimics the beginning of the previous section (but in present tense), there are no quotation marks, however, it's not clear whether the narrator is actually Susan Barton or whether the "author" of this section is the same author as any or all of the previous sections.

It's quite possible that this author is a contemporary writer or reader (i.e., us) who is visiting Defoe's home (complete with heritage plaque). It's as if the narrator is a visitor to the home, narrating their experience in the physical space, as well as their imaginary extrapolation of events that could have taken place here three centuries before.

Dying to Tell the Tale

The bulk of the first three sections explores the power relationship between Cruso and Susan.

Eventually, it becomes clear that she will have to tell (or commission the telling) of his and/or their story. The second option necessitates the involvement of Foe, who de-authenticises the tale, in order to make it more entertaining and commercially successful.

Not only does this dialectic raise issues about control and ownership of the narrative, it dramatises a power struggle between two genders.

Friday on My Mind

Just as Susan recognises her own need and desire to communicate, increasingly, her own perspective comes to focus on the plight of Friday:

"...this is not a place of words…This is a place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday."

He has no tongue, therefore he cannot speak. He knows little English, and presumably cannot write. Therefore, apparently, he has no capacity to contribute his version of the story, in other words, a black version of history.

Susan starts to teach Friday how to write in the third section.

As if the issues raised in section four aren't enough, I wondered whether Friday might have "written" the entire novel.

Thus, there is a sense in which the book can be read as a post-colonial work that gives voice not just to non-whites, but simultaneously to women. In any event, just as it subverts the authorial conventions of literature, it subverts the social conventions of white male authoritarianism.

Friday, I'm in Love!

This review might make the novel sound very academic. The truth, however, is that it's exquisitely written. Not one word is surplus or out of place. It consumes our imagination so effectively that we don't need any distraction. However, having achieved its goal, it remains a distraction for the reader. I'm sure the previous reader would agree with me!



The Cure - "Friday, I'm In Love"

"I don't care if Cruso's blue,
Author's gray and readers too.
Defoe, I don't care about you,
Coz, Friday, I'm in love."


The Easybeats - "Friday On My Mind"


David Bowie - "Friday On My Mind"


Pink Floyd - "See Emily Play"

"She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow."



David Bowie - "See Emily Play"


"It is not whoring to entertain other people's stories and return them to the world better dressed." [J.M. Coetzee]
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Reading Progress

01/11 marked as: currently-reading
01/12 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new) - added it

Greg Brozeit Anything that conjures up "See Emily Play" must be worth a read.

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian GalaDali Both versions!

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