Susan Barton is on a quest to find her kidnapped daughter whom she knows has been taken to the New World. She is set adrift during a mutiny on a ship to Lisbon. When she comes ashore, she finds Friday and Cruso who has grown complacent, content to forget his past and live his life on the island with Friday—tongueless by what Cruso claims to have been the act of former slave owners—in attendance.
Arriving near the end of their residence, Barton is only on the island for a year before the trio is rescued, but the homesick Cruso does not survive the voyage to England. In England with Friday, Barton attempts to set her adventures on the island to paper, but she feels her efforts lack popular appeal. She tries to convince novelist Daniel Foe to help with her manuscript, but he does not agree on which of her adventures is interesting. Foe would prefer to set her story of the island as one episode of a, more formulaic, story of a mother looking for her lost daughter, and when he does write on the story she wishes, fabulates about Cruso's adventures rather than relating her facts.
Frustrating Barton's efforts further, Foe, who becomes her lover, is preoccupied with debt and has little time or energy to write about anything. Barton's story takes a twist with the return of someone claiming to be her missing daughter.