Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Foe by J.M Coetzee

   There are some books to be read, others to be digested, some to be cherished, some to be forgotten and others to be treasured.

“Foe is a finely honed testament to its author’s intelligence, imagination, and skill…the writing is lucid and precise, the landscape depicted mythic yet specific”. This New York Times review and other book critics heaped accolade on the fine texture of the novel. Acclaimed writer and the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Coetzee’s Foe is magnificent work of art to be cherished and treasured.

The story unfolds with castaway woman carried by the waves to the shore, and thus a new beginning of her life with two strangers, and the one with whom she bedded and the other is a Negro mute. The portrayal of the life on the island is vivid and picturesque. A beautiful depiction of man’s return to nature and live in harmony with the pristine environment. What is possible for the survival with bear necessity and how human acclimatize to the new surrounding and make it his home. After the old man succumbed to an illness on the Island, the widow and the speechless Negro rescued by a passer by ship and returned to England. The hardship endured on the Island reflects in the words of the widow “Life with Cruso put lines on my brow, and the house of Foe has only deepened them”. It is about human endurance, longing and patience for the good to unfold. In the author’s own words “There are designs in our lives, and if we wait long enough, we are bound to see that design the unfolding “

This is a beautiful line, and the underling themes of the book I guess. The castaway woman is tailed by the mute Negro. By the decency of human nature, the widower felt obligated to safeguard the Negro slave and the moral responsibility to set him free. The Negro, who is named Friday, his tongues were hopped off by the slave traders, and he is deprived of writing and speech. But I should not take the meaning of such simplicity literally. The Novel is a fine literary work and it is filled with allegorical tales, and figurative meanings for each of its symbols. Therefore the reader needs to read it between the lines, and interpret the implied meaning of each symbol, words and action from the characters.

After just reading ones, I feel the need to study the novel. As another critic of the novel piqued “Coetzee’s sentences are coiled springs, and the energy they release would take other writers pages to summon.” This novel is a perfect example saying more in less. The other hallmark of the work is in its inventiveness, and creativity in plot and narration of the tale. The author’s another major theme the work could be a attack on the inhuman system of slavery, and its devastation of the victims’ lives. I stumbled upon a line that condemns the cruelty of slavery perpetrator, and the line runs “Those whom we have abused we customarily grow to hate, and wish never to lay eyes on again. The heart of man is a dark forest”. Another piece of wisdom I gained from the reading is the author’s advice on those who aspire to become a writer. He contends the art of storytelling and the writing is not a god given talent. It is a learnt skill learnt through practice over a long period of time. Thus it goes “Writing does not grow within us like a cabbage while our thoughts are elsewhere, it is a craft won by long practice, as you should know”. This reminds me of George Orwell’s piece on Why people write? I resort to writing as a means of killing my loneliness and idleness, to give an outlet to my frustrations, anger and unhappiness. It has cathartic effect and writing relieves me and gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose. What I cannot scream, yelled and give a tirade, for I am a gentleman, I do it in writing silently. And I agree with what the author said about writing in silence “Even when we seem to write in silence, our writing is the manifest of a speech spoken within ourselves or to ourselves”. I admit my writing is most of the time a stream of consciousness; it doesn’t follow a rule, an order. And it does not need one, for it is difficult to focus, one thing. There are tons of noteworthy incidents in the novel, that deserve a mention, but I am just doing a personal book reviewing and it spare the details and lurch on the one that interest and intrigue and relates to my need. Here is another line about what is speech, in the context of Friday’s inability to express himself and the widow’s futile attempt to teach Friday to speak or to write. “Speech is but a means through which the word may be uttered; it is not the word itself”.

The anecdote of Muse is interesting too, “The Muse is a woman, a goddess, who visits poets in the night and begets stories upon them. In the accounts they give afterwards, the poets say that she comes in the hour of their deepest despair and touches them with sacred fire, after which their pens, that have been dry, flow”.

As I set on to say this novel is a different type of book, it is to be cherished and treasured, as when you savor something, you don’t just put aside it with one touch. You hold on it and leaf through vastness of it pages and retell and reread to get a full apprehension of its infinite scope and beauty.

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