The Book of Goose
by Yiyun LiPublished 2022 368 pages
Resonated with me because I've spent some of my life in the company of Main Characters, to whom I feel like I play the role of enabler and supporter.
The Book of Goose is the story of the relationship between Fabienne, a social outcast, and Agnes, the narrator—two girls living in rural, postwar France. Agnes is captivated by the wily, eccentric, and antisocial Fabienne, who regularly invents games for the two to play together to get a sense of what "real" living is. One of Fabienne's games is to wrangle the help of the local postmaster to write a book about their lives in the countryside; Fabienne comes up with the story and Agnes writes it down. Agnes—the more socially facile of the two—is put forward as the author of the book, even though it's almost entirely Fabienne's fabrication. The deceit is part of the game—Agnes travels first to Paris, and then to England, as a literary prodigy. In the end, however, Agnes finds that she's lost the plot of the game, and, desperate to return to her small town and be with Fabienne, ends the game.
The central relationship is passionate but without drama. Fabienne acts aloof and regularly insults Agnes, but privately grapples with her position in the world; Agnes is more capable of presenting the face that adults want to see, but her whole value system is bound up in her fidelity to Fabienne.
Once their game is over, they drift apart. At the emotional climax of the book, Fabienne explains,
"Can't you see that we've already lived past the best time of our lives?"
The moment she said it, I knew she was right. She had made a game to deceive the world; we had succeeded, and now the game was coming to an end.
The end is heartbreaking in the fatalistic way that all good books end. Agnes and Fabienne learn to cope with their lives in their own way, disengaged from the world they constructed. Agnes loses touch with Fabienne entirely and her (Fabienne's) eventual death in childbirth serves to frame and trigger the main story, a reminiscence of a precious moment in the past.