Wednesday 26 November 2008

Friend or...

Wow! Unanimous for 'music' - I thought the results would be a little more even... and, in fact, I'm going to put in the lone vote for 'art'. I counted doing-it-myself, and pictures on the covers of books, etc. etc. - I couldn't cope without it, whereas music has always been an enjoyable peripheral to my life. But I feel a little culturally out of my depth now that I know what aficiandoes you all are! Art 1: Music 20.

Without any attempt at a link here, I'm going to mention a book I read the other day for my course - Foe by J. M. Coetzee. I'd always avoided him, mostly because I got him mixed up with another author, whose name I can't now remember... somehow these prejudices stick, even when they are proved irrational, and I'd never picked up one of his books. After Foe, I think I might change my mind.

Foe is a novel related to Robinson Crusoe - which I haven't read, so I daresay I missed hundreds of nuances, but I know *enough* not to miss them all - not really a retelling or a new perspective, but an exercise in the idea of storytelling, narration, truth... The lead character is Susan Barton, washed up on Crusoe's island after having been victim to a ship's mutiny. The Cruso (note the missing 'e') and Friday she encounters are subtly different to Defoe's, and sometimes not so subtly different (Friday's race is changed; Cruso seems to have no real knowledge of his background and continually gives different versions of it). But the most interesting part comes when Susan is back in England, meeting the author Foe - or (De)Foe if you will - who is turning her story into a novel. But here the tussle for control over the narrative begins - and becomes increasingly complex as Susan's long-lost daughter arrives, though Susan is adamant that she is not her daughter - has Foe invented her? What power does he have over their lives?

As a venture into the stormy waters of postmodernism, this is happily an utterly accessible and enjoyable novel (the overlap of experimentation and readability is sometimes narrow in this field, isn't it?) - Foe raises all sorts of fascinating questions, but also lets you nod at these with interest and still read a rather good novel. Oh, and it's short - always a tick in the 'pro' column for me!


  1. Foe sounds interesting but I went seriously off Coetzee when I read Disgrace - I did finish it, but I couldn't bear to have it in the house, and consigned it immediately to the charity shop (I can't bring myself to destroy a book, even one I loathe so much). Horrible book, it makes me shudder to think of it - but I admit, well-written.

  2. Thanks for this interesting review. I read Foe a couple of years ago and really was quite disappointed with it. I'd read Disgrace and some of the other novels by Coetzee and enjoyed them (not sure if that is the right word) and been impressed by them greatly..
    Perhaps I should go back and give it another chance . . .


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