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Foe by J.M. Coetzee


I’m a book snob, who would rather be caught reading ‘Literature,’ (however boring), than fun and frivolous chick-lit, (which I actually really enjoy).

So it serves me right for choosing to read Foe by JM Coetzee based on the author having won the Nobel Prize, rather than an erotic version of Wuthering Heights, although to be completely honest, when I opened Wuthering Nights the first paragraph I read made me blush. I quickly closed Wuthering Nights and shoved it back on the shelf, hoping the shop assistant wasn’t looking at me. (I’m obviously 50 Shades of Too Repressed – you’re reading the blog of the last woman left in Australia who hasn’t contributed to the wealth of whoever that author is).

Anyway, back to the worthy choice, Foe. Foe is a spin on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, as told by Susan Barton, who becomes a fellow castaway on ‘Cruso’ and Friday’s desert island. (How good would a ‘dessert’ island have been instead? Chocolate mousse, sticky date puddings, crème brulee… I could expand on this theme with pleasure, but sadly, it wasn’t that type of island).

I found the idea of the additional character intriguing initially, but soon felt bogged down by the story and although I finished the book, I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t particularly like the original Robinson Crusoe either, so I think my problem is with the story rather than the writing, which is very good.

To quickly rehash the story of Foe, Susan was searching for her lost daughter in Bahia when she was castaway from the ship on which she was returning home by mutineers. She rowed to the island where Cruso and Friday were already living. Over the year Susan lived on the island, Susan came to suspect Friday of being a cannibal and Cruso of removing Friday’s tongue. The horror of Friday’s tongue-less state haunts Susan.

Susan was desperate to escape the island, but Cruso would have been happier never to leave, as the king of his own realm. Eventually though, they were rescued, but Cruso died on the journey back to England.

Susan was saddled with the responsibility of looking after Friday. In an attempt to earn money, she enlisted Foe, a writer on the run from his creditors, to write their story. Susan and Friday spend a quarter of the book living in Foe’s house and selling his possessions to survive. During this time a woman presented herself to Susan claiming she is her daughter, but Susan rejected the woman as an imposter. Eventually Susan and Friday found Foe, who was hiding from the bailiffs, but to Susan’s annoyance Foe was more interested in using Susan’s search for her daughter as a framework for the story, while Susan believed the time on the island to be the whole story.

Since Penguin liked this book enough to have published it, and JM Coetzee is a ‘Literary’ writer, Foe is obviously a good book. But if I ever get stuck on a dessert island and can only have one book, I’ll take a recipe book instead.


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