The true story of Friday will not be heard till by art we have found a means of giving voice to Friday.
We discuss J.M. Coetzee’s novel Foe, which presents an origin story of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Coetzee writes about Susan Barton, a woman castaway 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; beginning, 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 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 nonfiction from a favorite thought-provoking author, “The Kekulé 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.