BookBrowse Reviews The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Book of Goose

A Novel

by Yiyun Li

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li X
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2022, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
Buy This Book

About this Book



A subtly suspenseful and inventive novel of friendship, opportunism, fame, fantasy, success and survival.

Yiyun Li's The Book of Goose is a story of childhood friendship between narrator Agnès, a one-time prodigy from rural France credited with publishing a book at the age of 14, and Fabienne, who pushed Agnès along the path to fame. Towards the opening of the novel, Agnès, now living with her husband Earl in Pennsylvania — where she raises geese — receives word that Fabienne has died in childbirth. As she reflects on this news, Agnès unwinds the events that led to her literary stardom in a long flashback that comprises most of the rest of the novel.

Her story begins in the farming village of Saint Rémy during and following World War II. Growing up, all that really matters to Agnès is to remain close to Fabienne and to live out the games and fantasies her friend creates for them. But when Fabienne concocts the idea for the two of them to write a book with the help of the widowed postmaster, M. Devaux, and pass off Agnès as the sole author, her scheme winds up driving them apart.

Having published the book, a collection of stories titled Les Enfants Heureux that depicts children dying in horrible ways, Agnès becomes a quick success and something of a curiosity for people who wonder how a young girl from a provincial town turned the morbid details of her everyday life into words worthy of wonder. With this new existence comes an array of adults seeking to harness her potential to generate money and publicity, the most annoying and overbearing of which proves to be Mrs. Townsend, a woman who runs a girls' finishing school in England. Mrs. Townsend convinces Agnès's parents to allow her to provide their daughter with free education for a year, during which she will act as her legal guardian.

Agnès is reluctant to go, but Fabienne flips this situation into a new game for them to play: While at the school, Agnès writes to her friend and also to a made-up boyfriend of Fabienne's creation, Jacques, whom the girls pretend is Fabienne's brother. This fiction, which allows them to test the broadness and limitations of their feelings about each other, is one that Agnès warms to quickly, noting, "Jacques was better than any boy I had known: he had all the qualities of Fabienne, and he loved me more than Fabienne did."

Li has always been skilled at portraying the everyday in a way that's just off-kilter enough to provoke a suspense-fueling disturbance. Throughout the novel, even close to the end, we're left wondering where the story is going, exactly — in terms of plot, philosophical angle, the characters' relationship — though the story itself is deceptively straightforward. This is part of the fun. As readers, we get hooked on the girls' games just as they do, proceeding simply because we can't wait to see what happens next.

The Book of Goose draws on conventional elements — this is a tale of childhood friends whose closeness threatens patriarchal and heteronormative structures, of those two friends growing apart, of a character making a journey from a simple country setting to one of urban refinement, of that character becoming acquainted with the cynical realities of celebrity — but its brilliance lies in the small ways in which these elements go awry. Fabienne and Agnès themselves seek to disrupt the dull narratives their lives are pitched towards — marriage, children, death — although the grim truth that fame and adventures come with their own dull narratives soon sets in. Still, they try their best to live by their own rules. Li's novel has a lot going for it thematically, raising questions about fiction and perspective and reality, about exploitation and domination and class snobbery, all suspended distinctly in Agnès's satisfyingly rendered narration, which comes across clear, sharp and tinged with existential dread. All this makes the ride alongside the main characters as they attempt to bend reality to their will continually intriguing.

At one point, Agnès is interrogated by a British publisher, his assistant and Mrs. Townsend, who are eager to know about her plans for future books and to offer advice. Out of her element, and feeling that she will inevitably make a misstep, Agnès leans into the precarity of the moment and dramatically announces that she may never write another book, to stunning effect. "I could tell," she explains, "from all three adults' faces, that I said a perfectly wrong and horrible thing."

Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook

This review first ran in the September 21, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Françoise Sagan

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Book of Goose
    The Book of Goose
    by Yiyun Li
    Yiyun Li's The Book of Goose is a story of childhood friendship between narrator Agnès, a one-...
  • Book Jacket: Big Red
    Big Red
    by Jerome Charyn
    Jerome Charyn made his name as an author of detective novels, and over the years he has taken his ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Bell in the Lake
by Lars Mytting
The engrossing epic novel - a #1 bestseller in Norway - of a young woman whose fate plays out against her village's mystical church bells.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.



Solve this clue:

G R T Bad R

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.