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Michel Tournier: Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique (Friday or The Other Island)

This novel is a retelling of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with, of course, a few twists. It starts off following Defoe’s version quite closely. His early days on Speranza, which is what he calls the island, are similar – recovering what he can from the shipwreck, killing a goat, building shelter and exploring the island. However, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is a good Englishman. He becomes king of his island and enjoys what it has to offer. Tournier’s Crusoe is very different. He soon adopts the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with a return to nature. Defoe’s Crusoe and, initially, Tournier’s, seek to control their environment and put their stamp on it. Defoe’s Crusoe continues to do this, even with the arrival of Friday. Tournier’s, however, soon turns away from this approach and starts to establish a mystical contact with his environment, from running around in the nude to worshipping the sun. When Friday does arrive, unlike with Defoe, it is Friday that is in charge, not Robinson and it is Friday that eventually goes back on the rescue ship, while Robinson stays behind. Of course, you cannot look at this work without reference to the Defoe novel. Defoe was a realist, while Tournier clearly is not. Defoe’s Robinson is a certain someone both to be admired and sympathised with, while Tournier’s is more likable but also more given to very unEnglish mysticism. Defoe’s tries to create a world while Tournier’s tries to be part of the world.

Publishing history

First published in French 1967 by Gallimard
First published in English 1969 by Collins
Translated by Norman Denny