Ten White Geese
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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.
Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker translated by David Colmer. Copyright © 2013 by Gerbrand Bakker.
Early one morning she saw the badgers. They were near the stone circle she had discovered a few days earlier and wanted to see at dawn. She had always thought of them as peaceful, shy and somehow lumbering animals, but they were fighting and hissing. When they noticed her they ambled off into the flowering gorse. There was a smell of coconut in the air. She walked back along the path you could find only by looking into the distance, a path whose existence she had surmised from rusty kissing gates, rotten stiles and the odd post with a symbol presumably meant to represent a hiker. The grass was untrodden.
November. Windless and damp. She was happy about the badgers, satisfied to know they were at the stone circle whether she went there or not. Beside the grassy path stood ancient trees covered with coarse, light grey lichen, their branches brittle. Brittle yet tenacious, still in leaf. The trees were remarkably green for the time of year. The weather was often grey. The sea was close by; when she looked out from the upstairs windows in the daytime she occasionally spotted it. On other days it was nowhere in sight. Just trees, mainly oaks, sometimes light brown cows looking at her, inquisitive and indifferent at once.
At night she heard water; a stream ran past the house. Now and then she would wake with a start. The wind had turned or picked up and the rushing of the stream no longer carried. She had been there about three weeks. Long enough to wake up because a sound was missing.
Of the ten fat white geese in the field next to the drive, only seven were left a couple of weeks later. All she found of the other three were feathers and one orange foot. The remaining
birds stood by impassively and ate the grass. She couldn’t think of any predator other than a fox, but she wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that there were wolves or even bears in the area. She felt that she was to blame for the geese being eaten, that she was responsible for their survival.
’Drive’ was a flattering word for the winding dirt track, about a kilometre and a half long and patched here and there with a load of crushed brick or broken roof tiles. The land along the drive — meadows, bog, woods — belonged to the house, but she still hadn’t worked out just how it slotted together, mainly because it was hilly. The goose field, at least, was fenced neatly with barbed wire. It didn’t save them. Once, someone had dug them three ponds, each a little lower than the last and all three fed by the same invisible spring. Once, a wooden hut had stood next to those ponds: now it was little more than a capsized roof with a sagging bench in front of it.
The house faced away from the drive towards the stone circle (out of sight) and, much farther, the sea. The countryside fell away very gradually and all of the main windows looked out over it. At the back there were just two small windows, one in the large bedroom and one in the bathroom. The stream was on the kitchen side of the house. In the living room, where she kept the light on almost all day, there was a large wood–burning stove. The stairs were an open construction against a side wall, directly opposite the front door, the top half of which was a thick pane of glass. Upstairs, two bedrooms and an enormous bathroom with an old clawfoot tub. The former pigsty — which could never have held more than three large pigs at once — was now a shed
containing a good supply of firewood and all kinds of abandoned junk. Under it, a large cellar, whose purpose she hadn’t quite fathomed. It was tidy and well made, the walls finished with some kind of clay. A horizontal strip window next to the concrete stairs offered a little light. The cellar could be sealed with a trapdoor which, by the look of it, hadn’t been lowered for quite some time. She was gradually expanding the area she moved in; the stone circle couldn’t have been much more than two kilometres away.
Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
"A beautiful book . . . Mysterious and sometimes menacing." —Jacki Lyden, NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered
"One of the most beautifully written novels in recent memory . . . Powerful . . . Bleak and lovely in equal measure . . . Bakker captures the gorgeous desolation of the natural world as few contemporary writers can. And he makes Agnes a compelling enigma until the last page." —Newsday
"[An] affecting mystery . . . pocketed with meaning and subtly menacing. It moves rapidly along." —The New Yorker
“Intense . . . Evocative and unsettling . . . Like other recent novels it slightly resembles, such as Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee and Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, Ten White Geese has the laconic texture and angular plotting of a thriller, with shifting points of view that keep the reader guessing about what surprise is lurking around the corner.” —Christopher Benfey, The New York Review of Books
"Satisfyingly enigmatic . . . Bakker establishes a steadily mounting tension via an unlikely reworking of quotidian moments [and] strange, haunting glimpses of a disrupted life. . . . Though there are moments of ominous human contact, this novel also contains wry comedy and unlikely moments of human connection. . . . Memorably surreal." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"The holy writ in Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker’s novel Ten White Geese is the hauntingly inscrutable poetry of Emily Dickinson. . . . Everything comes at that strange Dickinsonian slant, lighting up the seemingly ordinary natural surroundings with an unearthly aura of menace." —The Wall Street Journal
"Luckily for all of us, Ten White Geese takes us to authentic depths. . . . Abiding humanity runs throughout. . . . Lovely." —The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Astonishing . . . Immensely gripping . . . The sentences follow one another with the hypnotic cadence of an incantation. . . . Ten White Geese raises questions of a profound nature . . . with a poise and sensitivity that is second to none." —The Quarterly Conversation
"Quietly haunting and poignant . . . A finely crafted character study." —World Literature Today
"Breathtakingly beautiful . . . Eerie and utterly compelling . . . There is a strain of humor here that . . . had me laughing out loud. . . . What drives this novel is a slow and sometimes menacing erotic burn. . . . [It] has much of the feel of a thriller, with a tense atmosphere that makes for a brisk, immersive read." —Garth Greenwell, Towleroad
"Oddly gripping . . . Intriguingly crafted . . . Impressively atmospheric and a solid good read." —The Complete Review"Luminous . . . Mysterious . . . Remarkably organic . . . Woven in many somber tones, rather like a Rothko painting . . . Bakker’s language is studded with sensuality. . . . Reading this book may make you feel fantastically solitary." —Barnes and Noble Review
"Mysterious . . . Bakker’s spare prose gradually builds a sense of urgency beneath this haunting novel’s deceptively placid surface." —Publishers Weekly, starred review and Pick of the Week
"Essential reading for fans of literary fiction . . . Haunting, fearless, and heartbreaking . . . Brave and beautifully realized." —Library Journal
"Hypnotic . . . Haunting . . . Heartbreaking . . . Vividly conjure[s] the misty, mossy landscape [and] illuminates [Emily] Dickinson’s life." —Booklist
"The exquisitely clear style of Ten White Geese, in this beautifully natural translation, sustains a tightly controlled and tense story as it gradually reveals itself, ever surprising and suspenseful and impossible to predict from one page to the next. A powerful, unusual, and engrossing novel." —Lydia Davis, author of Varieties of Disturbance
"Ten White Geese is unlike anything I have read. In language deceptively spare and almost excruciatingly precise, it lays at our feet a host of secrets that will not yield to waking logic. It will stretch and vex and haunt, this novel; it has the queer, ruthless beauty of a dream." —Leah Hager Cohen, author of The Grief of Others
"I loved Gerbrand Bakker’s beautiful novel The Twin, but nothing could have prepared me for the singular experience of reading Ten White Geese. Mr. Bakker illuminates the beautiful, tragic darkness at the core of every life with a meticulously honest compassion that is both heartbreaking and revivifying. This book stopped me in my tracks, and moved me beyond words." —Peter Cameron, author of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
"A beautiful, oddly moving work of fiction, a quiet read that lingers long in the mind, like the ghosts that linger in our homes, and in the land around us . . . Assured and mature . . . Even more powerful [than The Twin]." —John Burnside, The Guardian (London)
"Simple and devastating . . . Written and translated with lapidary precision, perspective, and crisp prose; there is emotion and expression, but held back from the writing, which is controlled and full of clean, physical detail."—The Independent (London)
"A novel full of hints and mysteries [that] will almost certainly keep you rooted to your chair until the dénouement."—The Spectator (London)
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