cover image Foe


J. M. Coetzee. Viking Books, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81398-8

Imaginatively conceived and richly orchestrated, this slim novel by the author of Waiting for the Barbarians is at once a variant of the immortal Robinson Crusoe and a complex parable of art and life. Englishwoman Susan Barton, having been cast away by Portuguese mutineers, reaches the remote island occupied by another castaway named Cruso (sic and his man Friday. She lives on the desolate rocky island for over a year before they are ""rescued'' by an English ship. Cruso dies en route, and she and Friday are transported to England. The world, she says, demands stories of its adventurers; but how is the story to be told? Indeed, what really happened and what are the facts of her life? What of the mute Friday, sole witness to the events, whose tongue was cut out by marauding slavers? Or did Cruso commit the savage act? In England, she beseeches author Daniel Foe (sic to take the raw material and make a convincing narrative. How does art give life to experience, enliven it, make it vivid, memorable? The truth is sly, evasive; but the novelist closes in upon it with poetic precision to create a small, enigmatic work of art. We are pressed to see in the characters' relationships an allegory of the evil social order that poisons the author's native South Africa. (February)