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J M Coetzee: Foe

Foe as in enemy or foe as in Defoe? You be the judge. If you are going to deconstruct a myth, do it properly and Coetzee certainly does that. The narration is by one Susan Barton. She is shipwrecked on a desert island, inhabited by Robinson Cruso and his mute slave, Friday. A year later, they are rescued but Cruso dies, having contracted a fever. On returning to England, Barton adopts the name Mrs. Cruso and proceeds to tell her story (and the story of Cruso and Friday) to a writer called Daniel Foe. We are no longer concerned with the Crusoe story we all know but with Barton’s story. Is it Barton’s story? Is it Foe’s? Is it Cruso(e)’s? That indeed is the question as Coetzee shows how the story might have unfolded and come to have been conceived. Who is Barton? Who is the woman who claims to be her daughter? And, all the while, the voice of the black man, the person who probably really has a story to tell, is silent, as history has continually silenced it. Incidentally, if you are interested in post-modern Crusoe stories, try Jane Gardam’s Crusoe’s Daughter and Michel Tournier‘s Vendredi (Friday).

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Secker and Warburg