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Reviews of The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li

The Book of Goose

A Novel

by Yiyun Li

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li X
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2023, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A magnificent, beguiling tale winding from the postwar rural provinces to Paris, from an English boarding school, to the quiet Pennsylvania home where a woman can live without her past, The Book of Goose is a story of disturbing intimacy and obsession, of exploitation and strength of will, by the celebrated author Yiyun Li.

Fabienne is dead. Her childhood best friend, Agnès, receives the news in America, far from the French countryside where the two girls were raised―the place that Fabienne helped Agnès escape ten years ago. Now, Agnès is free to tell her story.

As children in a war-ravaged, backwater town, they'd built a private world, invisible to everyone but themselves―until Fabienne hatched the plan that would change everything, launching Agnès on an epic trajectory through fame, fortune, and terrible loss.

Excerpt
The Book of Goose

YOU CANNOT CUT AN APPLE with an apple. You cannot cut an orange with an orange. You can, if you have a knife, cut an apple or an orange. Or slice open the underbelly of a fish. Or, if your hands are steady enough and the blade is sharp enough, sever an umbilical cord.

You can slash a book. There are different ways to measure depth, but not many readers measure a book's depth with a knife, making a cut from the first page all the way down to the last. Why not, I wonder.

You can hand the knife to another person, betting with yourself how deep a wound he or she is willing to inflict. You can be the inflicter of the wound.

One half orange plus another half orange do not make a full orange again. And that is where my story begins. An orange that did not think itself good enough for a knife, and an orange that never dreamed of turning itself into a knife. Cut and be cut, neither interested me back then.


MY NAMES IS AGNÈS, but that is not important. You can go into ...

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  • award image

    PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    2023

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Book of Goose draws on conventional elements, 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...continued

Full Review (741 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Li's measured and exquisite delivery of Agnès' revelations conveys the balance and rebalance of the girls' relationship over time but also illuminates the motivations of writers (fame, revenge, escape) and how power within a relationship mutates and exploits...Stunners: Li's memorable duo, their lives, their losses.

Library Journal
Li's understated prose belies the intensity of the emotions being depicted, and the story takes many unpredictable turns. Knowing only that the adult Agnes married an American, lives in the United States, and keeps geese, readers don't learn the meaning of the title until the novel's end. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly
"[I]ntriguing...Bringing to mind Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, by way of Anita Brookner's quietly dramatic prose, this makes for a powerful Cinderella fable with memorable characters. It's an accomplished new turn for Li.

Reader Reviews

Margot P

Simple yet oh so complex
I love books like this-deceptively simple, straightforward plot, yet laced with a tremendous amount of dark, psychological elements. Two very smart, yet very bored young girls in post war southern France try to make sense of all the broken lives ...   Read More
prem singh

The Book of Goose A Novel
Lee's melodious creation takes an ambiguous turn, taking readers on a grand journey from the struggle to the crowded streets of post-French Paris. At the center of this compelling story is the relationship between Fabienne and Agnes, enduring ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Françoise Sagan

Francoise Sagan as a teenager sitting on a couchIn Yiyun Li's novel The Book of Goose, narrator Agnès Moreau recollects entering a surprising phase as a 14-year-old author in post-World War II France when a book that she was secretly assisted in writing by her best friend, Fabienne, became a hit and a public curiosity. Fictional Agnès describes the real-life French author Françoise Sagan as her more successful successor, rising to fame after the luster of her own stardom had begun to dull: "That year a girl named Françoise Sagan, who was four years older than me, made her name in literary history. The fame of Agnès Moreau, the peasant girl who failed to be transformed into a debutante, was no more than a twinkle of a firefly compared to the meteoric splendor of ...

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