This is a strange book and helps me understand why earlier in his career Coetzee was compared to Kafka.
The novel is, in one sense, a rewriting of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which was itself based loosely on the story of the real life Alexander Selkirk. Susan Barton is marooned on an island where she meets a white man named Cruso and a black man named Friday who has had his tongue cut out. When she is rescued, she lives in England with Friday trying to survive and have her story written by Daniel Foe.
To read it simply as a rewriting is not enough, though. In another way, it feels like a parable about race relations and gender relations constructed around the myth of the desert island castaway.
The first part is told by Susan as her version of events. She is addressing Foe and all of it is set in speech marks, like Conrad’s Lord Jim. In the second part Susan writes letters to Foe – letters which are never read or received, adding a sense of futility. The third part is a more conventional first person narration.
A strange book; I don’t know what to make of it yet.
I will be adding quotes from the book here: