“Ten White Geese” or “The Detour” by Gerbrand Bakker – A Gorse Novel

“Ten White Geese” or “The Detour” by Gerbrand Bakker  (2013) – 231 pages

  Gorse

Gorse

 Gorse   noun \gors\  Definition : A spiny yellow-flowered European shrub (Ulex Europaeus) of the legume family; broadly, any of several related plants. 

I was born on a farm in Wisconsin with a lot of woods and marshland, but I had never heard of the word ‘gorse’ until I started reading European novels.  Now I know why.  Gorse is a European shrub.  By now I’ve seen the use of the word ‘gorse’ in so many of a certain type of European novel that I am ready to define what I will call a ‘Gorse Novel’.

Here are the characteristics of a Gorse Novel.

 1. A Gorse Novel takes place in an isolated rural area where the people are few and far between.   But these lonely souls make up for their sparseness with all of their Eccentricities.

 2. These folks in a Gorse Novel are necessarily very close to nature, and the novel will contain elaborate descriptions of the birds, the other wildlife, the plants, or the weather that will usually put all but the most dedicated readers to restful sleep.

 3. People in a Gorse Novel don’t say much, and when they do, it is only in a few short words which are supposed to be Greatly Significant.  So when a character says “Storm’s a coming”, it means much more than that a storm is approaching.

 4. Nothing much happens in a Gorse Novel.  There is an eerie sense of quiet and calm, so finally when some tiny event happens like an itch or a cough, it seems as momentous as an earthquake.

 602254_618703621490259_1717585046_n“Ten Wild Geese” is a Gorse Novel; I would even say it is a GORSE NOVEL.  The word ‘gorse’ shows up several times, and the book definitely fulfills all the above requirements.  I’m probably not the right person to be reviewing “Ten White Geese” because I was not bowled over by this Dutch novel which won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

The Gorse Novel has all the same traits as what is called the Minimalist Novel in the United States.  Sometimes it seems like over half the literary novels written in the United States during the past thirty years have been minimalist novels, so this whole concept that ‘Less is More’ is nothing new here.  Rather the very idea of minimalist fiction has now become quite trite and overused.

art-353-Detour-200x0 There are many references to Emily Dickinson in the novel.  Dickinson is probably the Godmother of minimalism, so this is highly appropriate.  In fact the central woman character in “Ten White Geese” is called Emilie, and she is writing her dissertation in order to unmask Emily Dickinson’s mediocrity as a poet.  That’s funny, studying someone else’s mediocrity for your Phd.

I can appreciate that for European readers the Gorse Novel is something new and different   By the way, “The Detour” is the European name for the novel, and “Ten White Geese” is the United States name.  I never did grasp the significance of four of the geese dying early in the story, but it must have been tremendously important.

.

24 responses to this post.

  1. I loved your sense of bafflement at the book 😀 I’ve been reading a lot of rave reviews of ten white geese, but it still sounds dead boring to me.

    Like

    • HI Amritorupa,
      Yes, this kind of novel shows up in the United States all the time, but I suppose in Europe it is still a novelty. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  2. ROTFL You are a very naughty boy!
    I loved this book and now I will never be able to read it, or any other GORSE novel without snickering all through it and wondering about the Significance of the Sneeze.
    PS I wasn’t sure about the ducks either…

    Like

    • Lisa,
      I looked up ROTFL again, I’d forgotten what it meant, and, Thank You, that is the reaction I intended. I got the attitude for the above, not the words, from a fine old humorous English novel, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

      Like

      • AH, that is another one that I must read soon!
        What fun it is to be a reader of books these days, eh?

        Like

        • We readers still need to pick and choose. I just gave up on a book after 30 pages by one of your Australian writers, Lexicon by Max Barry. I couldn’t get into that unnecessarily violent book in a million years.

          Like

          • That’s funny, Emma at Book Around the Corner mentioned him too, I’ve never heard of him. He doesn’t sound like my cup of tea either.

            Like

  3. Coincidentally, I am halfway through this one at the moment and, like Lisa, I was audibly chuckling all the way through your review. While I think I am finding more in the book than you did, I can’t quarrel at all with your characterization of it as a Gorse Novel.

    I’d also suggest that Gorse Novels are the polar opposite of another one of my favorite labels, the Widescreen Novel — books spread over several generations and continents, usually involving a number of dramatic global disasters. In my experience, when well done either can be successful — when badly done, examples from both genres are quite painful.

    Finally, should we credit Thomas Hardy as originating the Gorse Novel? Or perhaps a Bronte?

    Like

    • Hi Kevin,
      Yes, somebody else mentioned to me that Wuthering Heights might be the first Gorse Novel, and the works of Thomas Hardy surely qualify.
      I did not have a name for these epic panorama novels where it starts out on a ship in Europe headed for the New World, and then we track the family for multiple generations. ‘Widescreen Novel’ is a great name for these. Right now I’m trying to think of the name of one of these novels, although I know I’ve read more than several. I suppose these are just as stereotypical and cliched as the Gorse Novel, and ripe for a little satire.

      Like

    • Tony, I hope you’re going to do a post about American Minimalist novels, my mind is blank as to an example.
      Kevin, I have just added your post about Burnt Shadows as a link on my (recent) review – the comments flow in an interesting direction too:)

      Like

  4. Very funny! It’s not often that a blogpost about a book makes one ROTFL or chuckle aloud. I was in the library, so couldn’t do either. Gorse always makes me think of Winnie the Pooh who fell into one which interfered with his thinking.

    Like

  5. “I’m probably not the right person to be reviewing “Ten White Geese” because I was not bowled over by this Dutch novel which won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.” – I would say this makes you exactly qualified to review the book! No such thing as universal praise. Does not exist.

    Also, though I haven’t specifically read Ten White Geese, I seriously love the concept of a Gorse Novel. Definitely read quite a few of those. Though they do also exist in the Americas. If anything, I think I’ve read more books that take place in the cold, quiet isolation of the Midwest than anywhere else… All just minus the word “gorse”.

    Like

  6. Hi Biblibio,
    Yes, the spare simple pristine novels of the Midwest are Gorse novels without the Gorse. To tell the truth, I’ve liked quite a few of these. There is something to be said for never using three words when two will do. I even like some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

    I suppose David Malouf might be considered an Australian Gorse novelist, although Malouf’s subject matter varies greatly from novel to novel.

    Like

  7. What a joy to discover the concept of a “gorse novel”. Made me laugh out loud. If you don’t mind I would like to add it to my review of the novel. I didn’t like the novel either because the main protagonist seemed so incredibly artificial. Perhaps that could be added to your definition: The protagonists are absolutely unable to communicate even if they teach literature at university level. They seem to drown in loneliness but don’t bother to tell their partner what’s worrying them.
    Personally I doubt whether this book has been so successful in Europe because Europeans don’t know that type of novel (reading is quite an international thing and Europeans read more (translated) English and American novels than the other way round). I suppose a lot of critics were determined to like this book because “The Twins” was such a good novel.

    Like

    • Hi buchpost,
      Thanks for stopping by. That would be fine to add a link to my review to your post. Yes, even the highly educated seem to dumb down to one syllable down on the farm. I suppose you read the novel in its original untranslated form. I haven’t read “The Twins” but certainly have read a lot of good things about it.

      I’m always on the lookout for good German novels, will be watching your blog.

      Like

      • Hi Tony, thanks, I am delighted to add the link to your post. No, I haven’t read the original form as I don’t speak Dutch. But perhaps you might like to read “The Twins” (I don’t know why they always have to change the titles in the translation process…) It is a gorse novel but a lovely one where the main character is a real human being trying to come to terms with bad memories and a difficult past. He is a farmer and the few words and the relationships he has are credible and I really liked him. Sometimes he is even funny. And the language is often beautiful. And the reader is told what has happened and doesn’t have to follow a trail of clumsy hints.
        Per Petterson also writes gorse novels in perfection. After reading one of his books you feel that no joy is left in the whole wide world.

        Like

  8. […] bloggers you will find on my blogroll is anokatony at Tony’s Book World who was inspired in his review of The Detour a few weeks back to create the genre of “Gorse Novel” (you’ll note from a quote […]

    Like

  9. The excerpt comes from early in the book. At this point, we know that a Dutch woman, Emilie, is experiencing her first few days at a rural house she has rented in Wales. She has already found a stone circle with a colony of badgers: “When they noticed her they ambled off into the flowering gorse.” An extensive description of the interior of the house and its exterior surroundings (stream, gardens, trails, nearby villages) soon follows. Again, it is fair to say that Bakker wants his readers to have a firm understand of “where” before he gets to “what”, let only “why”, in his story.

    Like

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: