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Friend or Foe?

March 29, 1987

Richard Eder's excellent review of J. M. Coetzee's "Foe" rightly places its emphasis upon the ambiguous relationship between the artist and the reality which he can or cannot fashion into art, but there is one facet of this subject in Coetzee's novel that has a special meaning for those familiar with Daniel Defoe's fictions. Everyone knows of Robinson Crusoe (Coetzee's Cruso) and Friday, but who is the narrator, Susan Barton? The answer is that she is another creation of Defoe, his "fortunate mistress" Roxana. Her story in Coetzee's novel is far different from the version that Defoe shaped for Roxana, but then, so too is the story of Crusoe and Friday. Also making an appearance is Colonel Jack, the hero of another of Defoe's novels. He is merely a 10-year-old messenger boy for Foe, but the outlines of his story are already in Foe's mind. Another creation of Foe--Daniel Defoe--makes also an appearance as a name. Not only does Foe have to shape the materials of reality into novels, he also has to shape the outlines of his own life into a kind of fiction.

MAXIMILLIAN E. NOVAK

Los Angeles

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