Foe is a small sized novel written by the South African author, J.M Coetzee. Published by Viking Press in 1986, it is only a hundred and fifty seven pages. Coetzee retells Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – a story about a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote island and is later rescued after several encounters with cannibals, insurgents and the likes.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Susan Barton, a woman who is on a mission to look for her daughter who has been kidnapped. She ends up as a castaway on the same island inhabited by Crusoe.
“At last I could row no further. My hands were blistered, my back was burned, my body ached. With a sigh, making barely a splash, I slipped overboard. With slow strokes, my long hair floating about me, like a flower of the sea, like an anemone, like a jellyfish of the kind you see in the waters of Brazil, I swam towards the strange island, for a while swimming as I had rowed, against the current, then all at once free of its grip, carried by the waves into the bay and on to the beach.’ p5
Barton stays on the island for a year, and gets to meet Crusoe and Friday. The island, however, is no paradise, as Barton tells us.
“But the island on which I was cast away was quite another place: a great rocky hill with a flat top, rising sharply from the sea on all sides except one, dotted with drab bushes that never flowered and never shed their leaves.” p7
As the story moves on, Barton and Crusoe eventually make it to England, where Barton makes efforts to writer her story. She meets Daniel Foe, a novelist, and asks him to help with the manuscript. However, Foe instead prefers to write about Barton’s search for her daughter in Bahia, Brazil. Barton tells Foe:
“I am not a story, Mr Foe…I choose rather to tell of the Island, of myself and Crusoe and Friday and what we three did there: for I am a free woman who asserts her freedom by telling her story according to her own desire.” p131
In Foe, Coetzee has written a novel worthy of his usual brilliance and style.