What can I say about JM Coetzee’s novel? And I’m not asking a rhetorical question here, I’m really wondering what is it I can say about a man who won the Booker prize twice (being the first to do so) and also the little award that is the Noble prize (in 2003). Hmmm…definitely nothing that hasn’t been said before 😀
Foe is not one of the novels to have brought him any of these prizes, and as far as I can see, it’s lesser known though considered by many critics as the archetypal post-modern novel. Basically, the story is the reinvention of the classic Robinson Crusoe, with a woman as the central character. Susan Barton is cast away on the same island as Cruso (as the character is known in this book) and Friday, and she is forced to live with them for a year. A very dull year, she discovers, since Cruso is a man of little words, Friday had his tongue cut off and the island is completely safe from both beast and man. There is food in abundance and all one can do is wait to be rescued. On the way back to Britain, Cruso dies and Susan takes Friday under her wing. The rest of the book is an account of her difficulties back home and her attempts to sell her story to Foe, an author to whom she addresses many letters in order to help him ghostwrite her book – this being the only way she can picture having an ensured income.
Perhaps not the best choice of book for me, I remember having read Robinson Crusoe as a child (and having hated it, too) – and there are many references to the novel and to Daniel Defoe’s other works which I’m not sure I get – so I can’t really make up my mind about the book or the author. I wasn’t exactly touched by it, though I’m not sure that this is what it’s intended to do. There are a lot of issues to be discussed in reference to the novel – colonialism, a woman’s position in society, slavery and the art of writing in itself – but what I did find overwhelming was Friday, not his character in particular, but the story of his mutilation. Susan is repulsed by the fact that he has no tongue from the first moment. And while she’s forced to live with him, his silence begins to take over her thoughts – she keeps searching for ways to communicate with him, while he is more and more entrenched in himself. A dumb witness to the entire story, his silence creeps throughout all the cracks until it “passes through the cabin, through the wreck; washing the cliffs and shores of the island, it runs northward and southward to the ends of the earth.” Friday’s silence is the last thing standing and his opposition to enslavement and to having another tell his story.
I know this was quite the lame posting, but I hope I’ll make a better one for “Waiting for the barbarians“. When it arrives and I get a chance to read it 😉