“We must cultivate, all of us, a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable.”
– J. M. Coetzee, FOE
I actually planned to read “FOE” by J. M. Coetzee right after reviewing Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, but Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece just begged to be re-read again. Still, now that I have finished this one, it’s time to share the afterthoughts, and boy, is this a confusing, yet addictive book.
“FOE” is basically an iteration of Defoe’s classic work. In J. M. Coetzee’s version, however, not only is Cruso (yes, without the ‘e’) more obstinate than ever, but he is devoid of any will to make all sorts of handy furniture, with only a table inside his famous ‘castle’, along with barren terraces. Friday is still here, but this time, he is a mute after having his tongue cut off by the slavers. Still, perhaps the most significant addition is the inclusion of a woman on Cruso’s island, by the name Susan Barton. After a mutiny on the ship, Susan, along with the dead captain, is ostracized and forced to survive on sea, until she was stranded on Cruso’s island, where the trees are not as great as Defoe’s, but rather, crooked.
The thing is, “FOE” does not emphasize the survival story of Barton, Cruso, and Friday, that is but the first part of the novel. Rather, the story focuses on much more than that; After being rescued, Cruso passed away (yes, died, sadly), and Susan Barton would like their stories on the island written by a famous author named Daniel Foe, the real author of “Robinson Crusoe”(he added ‘De’ on his own, for real). Yet, Daniel Foe has, in his great mind, a frame of a supposedly grand narrative that includes the island as an episode of his story, rather than the entirety of the story itself. This Susan cannot allow, and thus, the debate regarding the power over truth and authorship commences! XD
I wish it was as simple as that, though. You see, although that is basically “FOE’s” general premise, the novel includes the strangely powerful theme of loneliness regarding Susan Barton’s struggle to live with the now-mute Friday in a perfectly new environment of England. Throughout the book, we can see Susan Barton’s attempt in guiding Friday to communicate or at least show signs of comprehension towards her words, but to no significant avail. Even the loneliness is but a fragment of a much more important theme of the book: the power of words as well as their doubtful nature to be manipulated.
So, the book is divided into four parts; the first part is about Susan Barton’s life with Cruso and Friday on the island; the second part is her letter for Daniel Foe; the third part is her encounter and direct dialogue with Daniel Foe; and the fourth part is something that I cannot understand even when I am writing this review (seriously, I just don’t get it and I can only guess). The second and third part is without doubt, where the spotlight of the novel is; there, we get to witness Susan Barton’s view towards the art of writing ‘truths’ and her empathy towards Daniel Foe’s weighing of ‘truth’ versus ‘fiction’, or even the attempt to create a ‘fictionalized truth’. Not only that, but we are also presented with the nature of language itself along with its fundamental role in shaping who an individual is.
The book is short with its being roughly 160 pages, and it is certainly a quick read if you would like to breeze it through. Still, it is that kind of book where you are left perplexed after reading it. Even when you are reading it, you would be wondering why isn’t Susan Barton writing the book herself instead of Daniel Foe; she said, in a very profound manner, that Daniel Foe has all the mastery needed to write the truth while she doesn’t, but judging from her philosophical narrative, I believe she is more than capable to do so 😛 . Regardless, her thoughts regarding language and her comment on Daniel Foe’s decision to alter reality to his liking is very, very figurative and deep. As for Daniel Foe, well, he’s pretty much the same 😐 . This book is like a storied philosophy of language and the strength of words as well as authorship rather than a novel solely for your entertainment, and believe me, it is not a book for you who would like to read a relaxing survival story.
Sure, there are some well-written plot devices here and there, but that’s not the main point. In my opinion, I believe that “FOE” is a book that aims to make you think, a lot, about language, words, and the book itself after reading it. You need to read it again and again, think again and again, and MAYBE you can understand the fourth part of the novel.
I certainly haven’t understood it yet and I have read it twice in three days…..I mean, I get the general message regarding language and authorship and all, but for the fourth part? nope, not yet.
Oh, if there’s anyone wanting to enlighten me a bit, feel free to do so! I’ll be grateful 😀
Rating from me: 3.5/5
Have you read “FOE”? Please share us your opinion 😀