The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li

Friendship, especially when young, is a volatile thing. Best Friends Forever can turn into Best Friends Never at the drop of a hat, or lose its magic more slowly, over time. Catastrophic drama or just fade away, and all things between.

In Yiyun Li’s wonderful novel, the birth and death of friendship gains new life through the telling, through the writing of books within books, tales within tales, memories revived. With The Book of Goose, Li has written a kind of post-postmodern story, where the meta-aspects appear naturally, folded in with the narrative itself, instead of jumping up and down, asking for (theoretical) recognition.

To sum up this difficult to summarize novel: Agnès and Fabienne are two young teens, living in a small town in postwar France. They love each other, though this is never directly stated. Agnès follows Fabienne’s lead in pretty much everything, content to be her shadow. Her besty is a force of nature, and Agnès appears satisfied to just ride the wave. But Fabienne has plans to push her friend out into the world, and writing books is the vehicle. It works. One is published to great acclaim, with Agnès’s name on it, not Fabienne’s — the true author. This fateful choice sets in motion the rest of the story, and becomes beyond pivotal for both friends. Li writes a before, during and after for it all, but moves around enough in time to heighten the suspense. We want to know how this all came to be, even though Li has already told us their fates in a sense, early on. It’s a mark of the author’s fine talent and skill that she keeps us enthralled despite the early reveal.

This beautiful story about the complex nature of friendship, the interplay of Imagination and Reality, and the potential for adult manipulation and exploitation is easy to recommend. It’s moving, fantastical and sharply, strangely realistic all at once.

The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li
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