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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Foe (1986) by J.M. Coeteze


Book Review
Foe (1986)
 by J.M. Coeteze

   Color me not surprised that Foe, Coeteze's mid 1980's riff on Robinson Crusoe and father-of-the-novel Daniel DeFoe did not survive the cull between the first and second(2008) edition of the 1001 Books list.  First of all, Coeteze, Nobel Prize for Literature winning author or not, is hugely over-represented on the first edition of the list, with ten qualifying titles.  That is too many for any single author, let alone a writer who didn't start writing till the late 20th century.  His over-representation is the most egregious example of "present-ism," the tendency to favor the recent past to the far past, that permeates any canon making exercise.

   Still, as a lover of literature and a particular fan of the birth of the novel in the 18th century, I can't personally help but love Foe, with it's in depth exploration into the meaning of Robinson Crusoe, all in the guise of a sympathetic female narrator, who is said to have been cast away with Crusoe and the real source for the early novel that DeFoe wrote.   Meta fictional technique is everywhere, strewn about like the boulders on the rocky island Crusoe finds himself inhabiting.

  The idea of rewriting a classic work of literature from the perspective of a minor (or invented) character was not original to Coeteze.  Specifically, Jean Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea, famously written from the perspective of the "crazy wife in the attic" who haunts Jane Eyre.   That book is typically called a prequel, whereas Foe is a kind of imaginative retelling.

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