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Ten White Geese Paperback – 26 Feb 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (26 Feb 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143122673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143122678
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 899,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By anon on 7 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This profound novel deals with life, death and relationships. It is spare and elegiac, so if you like flowery description or lots of heavy detail this style is not for you. Its power and depth creep up on you. The descriptions of nature and the countryside of Wales are stunning. The initially unlikeable 'heroine' becomes compelling. It is simply one of the best books I have ever read and I know I will read it again and again.
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Amazon.com: 28 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"Tell all the truth but tell it slant" 27 Feb 2013
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Dutch woman who introduces herself to people as Emilie rents an isolated house near Caernarfon, Wales, where she ponders Emily Dickinson. She looks out the window at night, recalling a former lover. She thinks about the uncle who once wandered off into a pond and just stood there, half submerged. She wonders about the geese in the field next to the house; some have gone missing. She fears meeting the owner of the black sheep that have wandered onto her property. Every now and then she is overcome by tears. Why is she in Wales? Perhaps, as Dickinson might have done by writing poetry, Emilie is trying "to hold back time, to make it bearable." Something has clearly gone wrong in Emilie's life, something from which she is fleeing. Soon enough, the story shifts to Holland and we begin to learn what might have prompted her reclusive behavior. It takes some time, however, for an explanation to come into focus, as Gerbrand Bakker teases the reader with bits of the truth, never quite revealing Emilie's story in its entirety.

Although the scenes of Emilie in isolation are somber, those in which characters interact with one another -- Emilie and an inquisitive couple who own a bakery; Emilie and a doctor who doesn't believe her (no one does) when she explains that a badger bit her foot; Emilie's husband, Rutger, and her bickering parents; Rutger and the enigmatic police officer who befriends him -- are almost whimsical. As the novel unfolds, the reader wonders whether Emile will begin to let people into her life. She meets the sheep farmer as well as a student who is mapping a hiking path that runs through her property. Whether she will make a meaningful connection with either of them is a question that contributes much of the novel's dramatic tension.

Ten White Geese is not a plot-heavy story, but it does have some surprises. Although the story is realistic, it has a surrealistic quality. As is true of Dickinson's poetry, Ten White Geese is ambiguous, open to diverse interpretations. How much of the novel is unvarnished truth, how much is perspective (truth told slant, as Dickinson would say), is unclear. A reader who is so inclined will probably be able to discern symbolism in the vulnerable geese, in the foot injuries that two characters suffer, in the black sheep and in a stone circle that occupies Emilie's attention.

Although Emilie, before coming to Wales, was writing about the "all-too-eager canonization" of Dickinson, Bakker is clearly a fan. Ten White Geese quotes lines from Dickinson's poetry, quarrels with Dickinson's biographer, and makes references to the poems that assume the reader's familiarity with at least her best known work. Bees and roses show up in Dickinson's poetry and in Emilie's life. Some of Dickinson's recurring themes (death, pain, separation) are echoed in the story. There are obvious parallels between Emilie and Dickinson. Emilie describes Dickinson as a "puling woman who hid herself away in her house and garden, wordlessly insisting with everything she did or did not do that people should just ignore her, yet fishing for validation like a whimpering child, scared to death that the affection she showed others ... would remain unanswered." She could be describing herself.

While I wouldn't necessarily characterize Bakker's prose as lyrical, there is a poetic sensibility in his careful word choices, in the rhythm of his sentences, and in the novel's hidden meanings. This melancholy novel invites rereading (alongside an anthology of Dickinson's poetry), with each new investigation of the text yielding a new way of understanding the story.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Ample make this bed." 1 Mar 2013
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Built upon this haunting poem by Emily Dickenson, this lithesome book skims the days of a woman come to Wales in circumstances unknown. She has come to write her thesis on Emily Dickenson, continually pausing on this line. She has left under mysterious circumstances, of which we see only glimpses. In the back of her head she hears "Let no sunrise' yellow lace-Interrupt this ground."

Something is amiss with her. She continually smells the smell of the old lady who died in her cottage. She is sure she has taken the smell. She struggles to model the garden. She is secretive. She allows a young vagrant into her home. We know that pain haunts her days.

I loved this book. It is all nuance and interior life. I never understood the geese until the end. I was nervous with her choices. I pondered her past. Of course this is a lovely poem from which to build a life, but the author does it justice. This novel has the dreamy sense of waking from a late afternoon nap into the golden light of evening, a scene in fact enacted in the book. It is a small journey to the liminal world that is well worth the reading.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Emotionally complex literature 25 Mar 2013
By BowedBookshelf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
The Wind in the Willows, The Twin (Rainmaker Translations)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Slow and meandering 11 May 2013
By nfmgirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Lyrical Tale 15 April 2013
By J. J. McInerney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a powerfully stark, lyrical story written with grace, poignancy, intrigue, and tender humor. Emilie is a complex protagonist, difficult to understand, but well-worth the effort--she is symbolic of the "Emily Dickinson" in all of us. As are the geese. Bakker is a talented, lyrical writer who deftly uses words to tell a compelling story. This short novel is a great read!
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