‘Foe’ by J.M. Coetzee [Book Review]

For my fourth MA English essay I (coincidentally or not) have to read four books, the first of which was Foe by J.M. Coetzee. A re-telling of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, it explores the pre and post of being shipwrecked from a female perspective. Since it is not only set on a desert island, but in England too (and in Bristol at that), it also helpfully meets the criteria for #5 A book set in your home state for the 2016 Reading Challenge.

Title: Foe
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Released: 1986
Pages: 157
Category: #5 A book set in your home state
Rating: 7/10

“In every story there is a silence, some sight concealed, some word unspoken, I believe. Till we have spoken the unspoken we have not come to the heart of the story.”

Foe is the story of Susan Barton, an English-woman whose daughter is kidnapped. Susan crosses oceans trying to find her, but after two years of fruitless searching, she decides to look elsewhere and boards a ship. When the crew mutiny, killing the Captain in the process, Susan is forced to row to shore in order to save her life.

Arriving at the desert island, she meets fellow shipwreckers Cruso and his mute man-servant Friday, neither of whom hold any intention of ever being rescued. An uneventful year later, the three are picked up by an English ship and transported back to Susan’s homeland. The novel tells Susan’s story on the island, but her true discovery of self comes upon arriving back in England.

The book is largely told in the form of reflective prose (the workings of a novel) and through letters to Mr. Foe, who intends to pen and publish Susan’s story, accompanied by a number of embellishments. The compelling novel follows Susan’s journey to have her story told, but she soon discovers it is difficult to maintain her grip on what is real and what is fiction.


I really enjoyed this novel: it was wonderfully written and I especially loved all the thought-provoking ideas about “the seduction and tyranny of storytelling itself.” The section on the island was interesting, as was Susan’s personal journey with Friday upon arriving in England, however, I found the narrator to be unreliable in part, which contributed to a level of confusion. Despite this, I took a lot from the morals of the novel, and would urge you to read it – the author did win the Nobel Prize for Literature after all!

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