Phi Fic #21 “Foe” by J. M. Coetzee


We discuss the novel about an origin story of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe. Coetzee writes about Susan Barton, a woman cast away at sea who discovers an island inhabited by two men, Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Once rescued, Crusoe dies and Barton goes on a journey with Friday to tell her story. She seeks the renowned author Daniel Defoe but struggles with telling her story through the author.

“We therefore have five parts in all: the loss of the daughter; the quest for the daughter in Brazil; abandonment of the quest, and the adventure of the island; assumption of the quest by the daughter; and the union of the daughter with her mother. It is thus that we make up a book: loss, then quest, then recovery; beggining, then middle, then end. As to novelty, this is lent by the island episode- which is properly the second part of the middle – and by the reversal in which the daughter takes up the quest abandoned by the mother.”

‘All the joy I had felt in finding my way to Foe fled me.’

Reality also becomes blurry for Barton and the narrative builds to a metaphysical break in the structure which explores Authorship. What do stories matter? What gets left out? Who gets to speak? We also mention a work of non-fiction from a favorite thought-provoking author, ‘The Kekul Problem’ by Cormac McCarthy.

‘But this is not a place of words. Each syllable, as it comes out, is caught and filled with water and diffused. This is a place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday.

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