This feature (for now in the custody of sarah.of.a.lesser.god) is our way of sharing those book titles, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been standouts in recent reading, and hopefully getting some from our readers in return. The focus is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, on books concerning women and feminism, and/or written by female authors.
My Pick: Foe by J.M. Coetzee, one of the best books I have ever read. I’ve tagged this post in the “education” category because this book was assigned reading in one of my courses in Fall 2008, and I reread it this past week. Coetzee, a South African author who won the Novel Prize in literature for Foe, is a man who rendered an extraordinary revision of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a female character, named Susan, of his own creation. Crusoe (or Cruso) is a shadowy presence as the narrative focuses on the lives of Susan and Friday. For those who haven’t read Robinson Crusoe, which I found fascinating and troubling, Friday is an aboriginal man who Crusoe encounters when he’s shipwrecked on a fictional Caribbean island, and is subsequently forced into the role of Crusoe’s manservant.
Susan is the only woman Crusoe had contact with — at least in Coetzee’s imagination — and Defoe’s Friday became the archetypal “noble savage” of English literature. With the privileged white male character Crusoe dead, it is up to Susan to tell the story of the island. But Susan finds herself locked in a duel with her ghost writer: another white man, this one named Foe, in a nod to Crusoe‘s author, Daniel Defoe. (More after the jump.)
Meanwhile, Friday’s tongue is gone. He cannot write. His story is a swirling mystery, one that Susan tries to interpret on his behalf. As the man, Foe, starts commandeering Susan’s memories, she tries to do the same on behalf of the only nonwhite character. At the same time, Susan is grappling with the arrival of a young woman who claims to be her daughter, in spite of the fact that Susan swears she has never given birth. Is her identity being further co-opted as she is being forced into the role of motherhood, and is Foe behind this? Susan insists on taking control of her story, telling Foe, “It is still in my power to guide and amend. Above all, to withhold. By such means do I still endeavour to be father to my story.” I love Coetzee’s use of the word “father”, as Susan knows the importance of using male terms to wrest her rightful power from a man.
Foe is a slim book (157 pages), but a powerful and resonant one. I don’t usually say this, but I really think a lot of Harpy readers would find reading it a rich experience, even if you don’t end up agreeing with my love of Coetzee’s story.
Now, what say you? What are the books that have grabbed your attention recently?