Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: "Foe" by J. M. Coetzee

Sometimes a book does not have to answer any of the questions it poses to be a great and wonderful book. As long as the questions themselves come with certain qualities and bring with them an interesting idea that the reader can branch off of and present different questions themselves, a book does not need to have any answer to create a lasting memory of the emotions the book evoked while reading it. It is one of the reasons that Kafka on the Shore is my favorite Haruki Murakami book. It is confusing at times, but has a certain air about what is going on, and a certain profundity, that to add a concrete answer to whatever is happening would seem cheap and make what is happening in the book or story less important. It is fine line between being vague and interesting and vague and boring. For every Murakami there is a Pynchon, who at his worst is horribly unreadable. Luckily for me, J. M. Coetzee, one of the greatest living writers, is one of the former category with his novel Foe, a mediation on storytelling and the biases that can create or destroy a good story. Told as a framed narrative, with Susan Barton telling Daniel Foe (a fictionalized version of writer Daniel Defoe) about her time spent on a deserted island after the ship she was on suffered a mutiny on her way back from searching for her daughter in Brazil. There she meets Cruso, a man who chooses to live on the island, and his servant Friday, who has had his tongue cut out. It remains the most interesting part of the novel, setting up the basis for what is to come and bringing real interesting ideas about what life is like on this island with a new, female member. Susan has questions about the lifestyle. Such as why does someone as crafty as Cruso not build a boat to escape, or why does Friday sprinkle flower petals over a certain spot just off the island’s shore. She slowly comes to terms with Cruso’s rigid ways and Friday’s erratic, yet harmless behavior, and a year after she lands there, the group is rescued and Cruso dies on board. Then we get a different perspective on the tale we just heard. Is it being told by Foe, who was propositioned by Susan Barton to have her story told? Or is Susan merely making this part of the story up, and Foe is in no way connected with her life? And why is Foe so interested in Susan’s time in Brazil and not the island? And does it have to do with the woman who came in Susan’s life claiming to be her daughter? All these questions do not have answers, and while it sounds annoying, it really isn’t. Sometime the journey to a possible answer is worth the time spent searching for one, even if the ending leaves you shaking your head. This book is a truly profound work on the art of storytelling by a true living master.
Rating: 5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment