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3.7 out of 5 stars28
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 March 2012
"Foe" begins like an epic poem requiring all six senses to tune in. Our protagonist is a young woman struggling to survive. She fascinates like a spider constructing her web. Her rhythmic motions, her sensual fiber, her instinctive powers and her appetite for natural beauty guide the scene with all its vital ingredients--terror, exhaustion, suspicion, satisfaction, failure, passion, anger, triumph. With the completion of the web, in all its silky and resilient perfection, the reader exalts in the young woman's victory, but not for long.

This is not a straightforward story. The reader has fallen into the web or so it seems. Frustration at first irritates and then infuriates. The memory of a beautiful tale drifts out of focus. Truth evades. The reader, overcome by his incapacity to react wraps himself in a sticky state of inertia--a frail observer of a ever more vanishing truth. But not all webs are constructed to trap a prey. Spiders sometimes simply gloat with the pleasure over a perfect exercise.

And so very slowly after the mental anguish there comes the relaxed appreciation of an unreachable beauty, a truth suspended forever in time like John Keats' lovers on a Grecian urn. "Forever wilt thou love and she be fair!" A vision of an unattainable success.

J. M. Coetzee deserves a poet's laurel wreath for this hypnotizing portrait of human turbulence. I highly recommend J.M. Coetzee's "Foe".
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Daniel DeFoe's classic novel of shipwreck and survival is given an alternative re-telling by South African Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee in this short novel "Foe".

The story is told from the first person perspective of Susan Barton who is left adrift on a small boat with a dead captain after the crew of the ship she was sailing on to find her missing daughter on, mutinied. She washes ashore a desert island and finds that she is not alone. A man named Crusoe and his tongue-less former slave and manservant Friday are the only other two people living on the island. Their life on the island and subsequent escape to 17th England is documented here, up until she meets Daniel Foe, a budding novelist whom she wants to write her story and make her a celebrity.

Daniel Foe is of course Daniel DeFoe, who bought the faux title "De" to add before his last name to make it seem that he was nobility when he in actuality was not.

The book talks about stories and storytelling, the power of fiction, the power of words and narrative, and how we live and how we see ourselves in our heads in relation to the real world. I found the book a very fast paced read and enthralling in parts. Barton's encounters with Foe were particularly fascinating and Coetzee does a good job of recreating 17th century England well. Despite a rather obligatory literary ending - dreamlike and vague - I found it to be a good read that I enjoyed reading on holiday this summer. Coetzee's best is still for me "Disgrace" but "Foe" is a fine addition to this remarkable writer's canon and those looking for an accessible and interesting novel by this writer would do well to start here.
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Daniel DeFoe's classic novel of shipwreck and survival is given an alternative re-telling by South African Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee in this short novel "Foe".

The story is told from the first person perspective of Susan Barton who is left adrift on a small boat with a dead captain after the crew of the ship she was sailing on to find her missing daughter on, mutinied. She washes ashore a desert island and finds that she is not alone. A man named Crusoe and his tongue-less former slave and manservant Friday are the only other two people living on the island. Their life on the island and subsequent escape to 17th England is documented here, up until she meets Daniel Foe, a budding novelist whom she wants to write her story and make her a celebrity.

Daniel Foe is of course Daniel DeFoe, who bought the faux title "De" to add before his last name to make it seem that he was nobility when he in actuality was not.

The book talks about stories and storytelling, the power of fiction, the power of words and narrative, and how we live and how we see ourselves in our heads in relation to the real world. I found the book a very fast paced read and enthralling in parts. Barton's encounters with Foe were particularly fascinating and Coetzee does a good job of recreating 17th century England well. Despite a rather obligatory literary ending - dreamlike and vague - I found it to be a good read that I enjoyed reading on holiday this summer. Coetzee's best is still for me "Disgrace" but "Foe" is a fine addition to this remarkable writer's canon and those looking for an accessible and interesting novel by this writer would do well to start here.
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on 2 March 2011
Mr Coetzee writes so wonderfully, it really doesn't seem to matter here that there isn't much of a 'story' or that the ending is a bit weird. This is a moving meditation on the impact of slavery on the human psyche. Susan's reflections on what has happened to 'Friday' who has suffered named and unnamed terrors, and what this means for his humanity, gives us a deep insight into Coetzee's own thoughts about apartheid. Susan's own frustrations in her attempts to control her own story and move from the periphery are also deftly explored. As usual, Coetzee also explores the darker side of the writer's role, exploiting the stories of others. Serious subject matter written with great skill.
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on 25 November 2000
Coetzee - a male South African Booker Prize winning author - has got right into the mind and body of a young woman from 18th Century England - and cast her away on none other than Robinson Crusoe's island. There, she finds an ageing Crusoe doggedly building terraces, day after day, with his mysteriously tongueless black slaveboy, Friday. Crusoe accepts Susan's presence, but is deeply set in his ways. The island is his world and his - to her - reasonless building of the terraces, is his way of bringing order to an otherwise terrifyingly lawless existence. Once, Crusoe has a fever and Susan comforts him with her body - an event most beautifully and sparely described - but they become no closer as friends. Finally a sail appears and the trio head back to England. But Crusoe dies in Susan's arms en route and she, with Friday now at her heels, determines to find an author who can properly tell their tale. This is when she meets Defoe - who becomes in part her potential saviour, providing her with sustenance - but also her 'Foe', because in his attempts to make the book appealing to the widest public, he actuallly writes her out of the tale... This is a book all about the power of words, the search for a voice and Truth. I won't give away the amazing ending, but simply recommend this extraordinary book to anyone who loves a gently demanding, but superb, read.
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on 10 May 2012
This is a book I had to read for my English degree and I would advise that it is best read in conjunction with Robinson Crusoe as it is a literary reworking of that. This book primarily seeks to deromanticize the heroic island myth and present the reality of the silenced other and colonialism. Wordy part aside, it is worth a read, although you may want to do some further reading around the ending and avoid reading that section at 3am - it can be rather confusing.

I understand all the literary devices at work here, but I must admit that I found Susan an almost unbearable heroine, the spider imagery used within the book certainly seems to sum up her character - she is something of a parasite. This is not a light fiction book to enjoy by a pool, but if you want something that probably ticks the intellectual box, it is worth a go.
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on 24 July 2015
This is one of those remarkable books I am happy to have discovered. It also seems to be shrouded in a lot of scholarly analysis but I don't think all that is necessary to really enjoy this little gem. Read it for it's beauty of language, character and the story that it tells. It's a short book and makes an excellent travel companion. Buy it.
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on 6 April 2013
Having recently enjoyed 'Robinson Crusoe', this book promised an interesting new slant: a woman, Susan Barton, arrives on Crusoe's island, stays a year, and becomes his lover before they are rescued. On the island, everything is very unlike Defoe's book. There are no cannibals, no corn, no goats, and they live on fish and birds' eggs. Crusoe (here called Cruso) has no muskets, no paper and ink, and moves stones pointlessly into terraces for something to do. The additions look flagrantly symbolic: Cruso wears apeskin and Friday has no tongue. Cruso is still the 'lord' of the island. But he will `brook no change' and doesn't want to leave. Susan and Cruso have some set-up conversations about law and slavery, and Crusoe's former lengthy discussions of Providence become, 'If Providence were to watch over all of us... who would be left to pick the cotton and cut the sugar-cane?'

Most of all, hardly anything happens on the island, and then they are rescued, also without drama. Crusoe dies on the way home, Susan Barton takes on Friday, and writes a narrative of her experience which she sends to Daniel Defoe (here called Foe, his original name), in the hope he'll rewrite it and make them some money. The next section constitutes her letters to Foe, whom she seems to have got obsessed by, but which are even duller than the island section. She finally meets him and they have sex and ponder the hackneyed issue about how far true stories have to change for commercial purposes. There's an unresolved subplot about Susan seeking her daughter and more desperately symbolic stuff as Friday adopts Cruso's robes and wig. The novel's opening sentence keeps getting repeated in that bromidic way that's supposed to supply resonance. Overall, I think Coetzee - who's normally a terrific writer - must've written this while having a nap.
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on 16 February 2013
Not up to Coetzees usual standard but an interesting retelling of the story. Robinson Crusoe is one of my most disliked books and this made me think of it in a more positive light.
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on 9 October 2015
A very thought provoking book. Basically a reworking of Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe's original name was Foe). It has a woman narrator who was washed ashore on a desert island where there was another castaway called Cruso already there. Susan is eventually rescued and approaches Foe to tell her story. Coetzee is more interested in looking at who controls narrative and who decides what stories should contain rather than just retelling a story. This is a postmodern novel, very intricate, complex but well worth taking time over. The ending is extremely interesting. Strongly recommended.
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