Monday, March 10, 2014

FoeFoe by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

J.M. Coetzee's "Foe" is my eighth book by this author, and one that I like the least. I understand that I am just being obtuse, but I see this novella as somewhat incoherent and lacking precision of the message. Mr. Coetzee must see this work as important in his opus as he dedicated parts of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to motifs from "Foe".

In early eighteenth century, an English woman, Susan Barton, looking for her abducted daughter in Brazil is cast adrift by mutineer crew of a ship. She manages to get to a desert island, where she finds Mr. Cruso and his black servant, Friday. When they are rescued, she manages to get back to England, where she tries to convince a gifted writer, Mr. Daniel Foe, to write the story of her stay on the island. Mr. Foe has somewhat different ideas.

"Foe" is mostly about writing - its purpose and its labors. About the literary Muse, language and speech. It is also about how a story might not be a good story only because it is true. Perhaps most importantly, it is about the relationship between the story, the characters in the story, and the person called "the author". At some point Susan Barton worries about her own identity, fearing that Mr. Foe will write her out of her own story.

There are passages of great clarity and beauty in "Foe"; I have learned to expect them in Mr. Coetzee's work. Yet, to me, the language is not as wonderfully economical and precise as in his other books. I am puzzled by the thread about a young woman who presents herself as Susan Barton's daughter. The beautifully written ending is too enigmatic.

Three and a quarter stars.

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