Ten White Geese: A Novel

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Overview

Have you ever wanted to disappear and make a new life for yourself where no one knows your name?

Ten White Geese is the eagerly anticipated, internationally bestselling new novel by the winner of the world’s richest literary prize for a single work of fiction. Fans of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses or Paul Harding’s Tinkers may find in Ten White Geese a new novel to fall in love with.
  
A woman...

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Ten White Geese: A Novel

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Overview

Have you ever wanted to disappear and make a new life for yourself where no one knows your name?

Ten White Geese is the eagerly anticipated, internationally bestselling new novel by the winner of the world’s richest literary prize for a single work of fiction. Fans of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses or Paul Harding’s Tinkers may find in Ten White Geese a new novel to fall in love with.
  
A woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She says her name is Emilie. An Emily Dickinson scholar, she has fled Amsterdam, having just confessed to an affair. On the farm she finds ten geese. One by one they disappear. Who is this woman? Will her husband manage to find her? The young man who stays the night: why won’t he leave? And the vanishing geese?

Set against a stark and pristine landscape, and with a seductive blend of solace and menace, this novel of stealth intrigue summons from a woman’s silent longing fugitive moments of profound beauty and compassion.

Winner of the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Disappearing geese and an inexplicably hostile badger inhabit an otherwise eerily depopulated Welsh landscape in Bakker’s second novel (after the award-winning The Twin), which probes the inner landscape of its protagonist to equally mysterious effect. As a Dutch woman—who calls herself Emilie, perhaps misleadingly—moves around her rented farmhouse and the adjacent property, she has unsettling encounters with the local wildlife, and awkward encounters with town locals, who refuse to believe her story about being attacked by the badger. In Emilie’s native Amsterdam, we meet her oblivious parents and bewildered husband, still reacting to the affair with a university student that ended her academic career. What we learn very little about, however, is what she thinks of all this, except for her growing sense of disdain toward her Ph.D. thesis subject, Emily Dickinson. Bakker, while only hinting at what lies behind Emilie’s flight from her family, identity, and life, sets the scene for another explosion as his protagonist grows close to another young man, Bradwen Jones, who seems inexplicably drawn to her. Bakker’s spare prose gradually builds a sense of urgency beneath this haunting novel’s deceptively placid surface. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
An Emily Dickinson scholar from the Netherlands journeys to Wales, ostensibly to carry on her research but more realistically, to escape from a scandal involving one of her students. Agnes arrives in Wales in November, when days get grim and dark fairly early, an atmosphere that's well-suited to her loneliness. She rents a farmhouse and soon meets Rhys Jones, who tends his sheep and helps orient her to the small local community. Concerned that the 10 domestic geese are rapidly diminishing in number owing to the predations of a fox, Agnes constructs a crude pen to try to protect them. As she desultorily works on her translation of Dickinson's poetry, she muses about her past--her brief but intense affair with a student and the hounding that occurred shortly after. Bakker also intercuts scenes with Anges' husband, still in the Netherlands, who has no idea where his wife has gone, though scurrilous notices on the campus bulletin board make the "why" of her disappearance apparent. Although Agnes has few visitors, another Jones shows up (she wonders whether that's the only surname in Wales), this one a young man named Bradwen who had dropped out of university to help plot a hiking trail across the landscape. Agnes--who introduces herself as "Emilie" (in honor of Dickinson) to Bradwen--begins to repeat the past by showing sexual yearning toward Bradwen, but she's frustrated by his reticence. When Rhys shows up to check on Agnes, he's surprised to find Bradwen there. Revelations follow. In stark but lyrical prose, Bakker explores themes of both isolation and intimacy.
Library Journal
This haunting, fearless, and heartbreaking novel about loss, loneliness, and grief by Dutch novelist Bakker, who won the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his debut, The Twin, begins with an unnamed middle-aged woman settling into a remote farmhouse in Wales. She is a professor of translation and an Emily Dickinson scholar who has recently had an affair with one of her students, lost her job, and left her husband. It becomes clear as well that she has a serious, perhaps terminal, illness. During the novel, she becomes increasingly troubled and attempts to translate one of Dickinson's most famous poems about death ("Ample make this bed") into Dutch. She struggles also to "translate" the difficult, sometimes contradictory, and often brutal wisdom of Dickinson's poetry—with its love of nature and recognition of inscrutable mysteries—into her own life, and Bakker portrays this masterfully. VERDICT This is a brave and beautifully realized novel about mortality and existential loneliness. Essential reading for fans of literary fiction.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., Canterbury, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143122678
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 794,940
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerbrand Bakker won the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his first novel, The Twin. An avid gardener, he lives in Holland.
 
David Colmer is the translator of Bakker's novel The Twin.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2013

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    It is no surprise that a book about a scholar deeply immersed in

    It is no surprise that a book about a scholar deeply immersed in the work of Emily Dickinson is also about death. The titular ten geese, by the end of this book, number only four. But this book is about deception, too, and perception; love, and relationships; nature, and gardens. We pass two months in Wales but every season is accounted for. Gerbrand Bakker has created a knotty piece of fine art for us to contemplate.

    We never learn how old she is, Agnes, or Emily as she liked to be called. We know she is probably at the end of child-bearing age, so desperately had she tried to conceive. She is an intellectual, writing a dissertation on the poems of Emily Dickinson, that poet she must have once admired but grew to resent. She is ill. We learn that early, along with her sense of being stuck, and unsure in which direction to go.

    She arrives in Wales alone, escaping the failures of her past. She walks. One day a badger bites her foot as she lies sunbathing on a rock. Not long after, Bradwen, a boy, and Sam, his dog, stumble into her yard and stay. But statements about events are foreplay here, for there is undertone and atmosphere and references and indications which are more of the book than the story itself. Like poetry, perhaps?

    After her encounter with the badger, Emily pulls out her copy of The Wind in the Willows, one of the main characters of which is a badger. The book is mentioned again when Bradwen takes it from the house on his departure. That The Wind in the Willows is mentioned more than once cannot be coincidence. But why that book?

    Perhaps we are to draw light comparisons between Emily and Toad for she is at her happiest in the bath; makes a mash of her career; alienates and betrays those close to her; is “on the run.” Bradwen might be Rat, for he carried a backpack and simply takes what he needs for his journeys, offering friendship to Toad when he needs it most, and is locked up while Toad makes his escape.

    Bradwen is a curious figure whom we can’t see as a reliable character. He lies by omission, as does “Emily.” He never tells Emily who his father is and how he came to stay in this place, but clearly he is at home in it. He is willing to make meals in exchange for a bed. He shares a comforting, unerotic coupling with Emily, filled more with silence than sound, and worries ever after that his generosity might add to her burdens.

    Sam the dog might be Mole, who accompanies Rat and finds the badger. A badger is a solitary creature “who simply hates society”--perhaps the reclusive Ms. Dickinson herself?--clever, generous, and welcoming when another comes to visit, but must be sought out. Friendly but fearful and elusive, the badger and doesn’t ever seem to come when called. Dickinson was apparently better known as a gardener while she was living than for writing poetry. Does this draw a line from Bakker to Dickinson, and badgers?

    Gerbrand Bakker writes with a clarity and a depth that borders on knowledge—about pain, confusion, hurt, alienation, even sickness unto death—and in the voice of a woman. “I’m a strange man, maybe, but I think there is no fundamental difference between men and women. A lot of people would say otherwise, perhaps.” (NPR interview, 2013) This point of view may come from his training as a gardener. Humans of either sex are the same species: one sex has basically the same wants, needs, desires as the other—our differences don’t define our essential character. That having been said, this was a woman apart and in exquisite pain. I recognize her, but I hope I never meet (am) her.

    Ach. Gerbrand Bakker’s book refuses to leave me. In the same seven minute NPR interview mentioned above, Bakker says that the process of writing this novel precipitated in him a great depression. I am not surprised. But literature can make us think about what man is, and Bakker doesn't leave us bereft. We still have The Wind in the Willows.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Maybe I missed Something

    Maybe it was the translation, maybe it is the bleakness of the story - I don't know but I did not enjoy this book.

    The main character is not very interesting although she had an affair with a student and then leaves town (really leaves town to a whole other country).

    Still, I kept thinking, "Who cares?"

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  • Posted May 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The woman appears almost mysteriously, renting the little cottag

    The woman appears almost mysteriously, renting the little cottage recently left empty after the previous owner died. She keeps to herself and spends her time fixing up the place. Enter the young man on a journey with his dog, and they all find a quiet existence together.

    This was a very quiet, slow-moving story. It sort of reminded me of a little known Sean Connery movie called Five Days One Summer. Just slow and meandering, light on the dialogue, picturesque.

    The setting for this story is a very idyllic place, with things like “the kissing gate”, the stone circle, geese, pond, and charming bakers in town.

    I had no idea how much of a "mystery" this story would be. The character Emily is mysterious. You don't know why she is at this cottage, and are given glimpses into her other life. You don't know who this boy is that shows up with his dog, or what his intentions are. What about the other characters? Who was the woman who lived in the cottage before Emily? And what about those darn geese and sheep? Who do they belong to?

    There are allusions early on to Emily's failing health, but this isn't clarified until later on. Perhaps this is the reason she is so impersonal and nondescript. The boy is generally referred to as “the boy” and the dog as “the dog”. Names are rarely used. She doesn’t want to be personally involved, and wants to be alone.

    My final word: This story was well-written, and beautifully descriptive, making it easy for me to see the green hills, stone walls, quaint cottage, elusive geese. I didn't realize just how much of a mysterious bent the story would carry, but I enjoyed it. And it really sparked an interest in Emily Dickinson, with little blurbs of Dickinson poetry throughout. My one complaint is that there were a few dangling plotlines that left me hanging. Characters and ideas would be introduced only to fade away, questions arose and were left unanswered. But overall I enjoyed it. If you enjoy a quiet story with beautiful scenery, give this one a shot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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