A young woman who grew up in poverty in post-WWII France marries an American and quietly raises chickens and geese in the States. She recently receives word that her childhood best friend has died in childbirth, the same as her friend's older sister. Although the woman, Agnes, is not yet middle aged, her account is as someone whose life has already been lived.
This story of mine expired when I heard of Fabienne's death.
That's because Agnes and her friend, Fabienne, once pulled off what could be seen as a remarkable act of creativity or a stunt with malicious overtones that got away from them. Fabienne was the stronger personality. She was always poking and prodding people. She would do things to people and animals to see their reactions. When not tending to her father's livestock and her motherless brothers, she ran wild. She was not loved, except by Agnes.
After the postmaster's wife dies, the poetry-loving man is on his own. Fabienne decides to poke and prod, so she and Agnes visit him every evening. Eventually, they show him the stories that Fabienne has dictated to Agnes, who writes down the tales of dead children. Devaux, when he reads the stories each night, calls them macabre, puerile, morbid, unbalanced, and waits with greed for each new one.
He knows they are Fabienne's stories, and the two of them frequently spar. When she declares the stories are done, he dictates some editing changes that Agnes copies out in her handwriting. Devaux finds a publisher for them, and Agnes is whisked to Paris as a child prodigy author. Fabienne insists she go, alone, and later to England, again alone.
The rest of the story involves deceptions, betrayals and the fervent wish of Agnes to return home, to the days when she and Fabienne wandered around the countryside. But, of course, we know that even if that happens, it will never be the same again.
Agnes knows that for a time, she was considered a minor myth. And she knows that no one would believe her now. But she says that isn't important:
But is it a myth's job to make you believe in it? A myth says, Take me or leave me. You can shrug, you can laugh at its face, but you cannot do anything about it.
That mindset is embedded in everything Agnes tells the reader. She insists that a notable life and a dull life are the same, because both are lives that are being lived. "Any experience is experience, any life a life."
And yet, and yet. If that is so, why was she so determined to go back to Fabienne and to try to reclaim the past? Agnes is determined that she can only be herself when she is with Fabienne and that the two of them make a whole person. To Agnes, they wanted each other's experiences and to feel as the other felt, to go beyond themselves. For someone who states that "any life a life" Agnes protests a bit too much when the story reaches its climax. As she acknowledges:
Life is most difficult for those who know what they want and also know what makes it impossible for them to get what they want. Life is still difficult, but less so, for those who want but have not realized that they will never get it. It is the least difficult for people who do not know what they want.
The Book of Goose is not a story about contentment. Or love. It is a complex philosophical treatise about myth and reality, friendship and solitude, truth and deception, in the guise of a narrative. Of course this is an unflinching work. Because this is an author who could write a novel about a woman contemplating the suicide of a daughter (Must I Go) that she put aside when her son committed suicide. She wrote an imagined dialogue between her son and herself in Where Reasons End. This is a book to ponder over with its implications of how people consider themselves and others, and the places in which we exist.
READERS & BOOK LOVERS SERIES SCHEDULE