A lot of background information is sometimes just noise; it's immaterial for the unfolding of the story


Gerbrand Bakker

Gerbrand Bakker

Ten White Geese: A Novel

Gerbrand Bakker won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2010 for his novel The Twin. Ten White Geese is a quiet and haunting novel in which we follow a Dutch professor and Dickinson scholar fleeing to Wales after an incident and trying to settle on a remote farm.

We know very little about the main character, and the dramatic irony does not unveil much more to the reader. As a writer, was it a challenge for you to turn the focus away from her personality?

I’ve been thinking about this. The thing is: I think that a book like The Detour/Ten White Geese reflects real life much more than a novel in which there are no loose ends and where everything is explained. A lot of background information is sometimes just noise; it’s immaterial for the unfolding of the story. One often meets new people and it usually takes years and years before one really gets to know them. Somewhere I read about the book that the critic thought it ‘unsporting’ of me not to provide him with the necessary information. I don’t understand this: I think that all the necessary information is there. I didn’t reflect too much whilst writing – I never do – but later realised that the women melts or fuses more and more with the dead widow Evans and Emily Dickinson. Maybe that’s what dying means. Maybe not.

In the age of CCTV, investigations based on DNA, and credit card tracking, is it an impossible fantasy to leave without a trace and start anew?

It is of course virtually impossible. I hate cellphones: as a writer they are terrible. People know everything about each other all the time. One has to ‘smuggle’ these cellphones away, like I did by having Emilie/Agnes leave the phone on the boat. I also made sure that she uses as many different cashpoints with both her credit cards. But with her you never know what she really wants. Does she want her husband to find her or not? Does she want to keep Bradwen close or send him away? Is this badger-story true?

The main character writes a thesis on Emily Dickinson, and goes by the name of Emily when she arrives in Wales, and it seems that her way of life in Wales is similar to Dickinson’s seclusion and withdrawal from social life. As a writer, it is possible to be influenced in some way by your own characters?

See the answer to question 1. She calls herself Emily only when people ask her for her name. It’s like a quick thought and then Dickinson – because the poet is important to her (academic) life – springs to mind first. And sure: a writer can be influenced by their characters. I learned by writing this book that Dickinson – in my opinion – is maybe not the untouchable great American Poet that a lot of people think. And I started to hate this biographer of hers, and I had her throw the biography in the dustbin…

Although she is alone, the atmosphere around her feels quite worrisome, and we feel as though she is smothered by nostalgia, odours, memories and even words from Dickinson’s poems. Were you trying to achieve a certain balance between her (relative) seclusion, and all of those presences around her?

I like surmise (which is a word I don’t like: there is in English not a very good word for the Dutch ‘vermoeden’ or – even better – the German ‘Ahnung’) in a novel, or in a film. I think that surmise is the thing that makes art art. With surmise/Ahnung come words exactly like the ones you used: smells, nostalgia, fleeting memories, an atmosphere. Probably also words from a poem, because poems are also often not immediately comprehensible.

Most of the interactions between the characters are based on lies. Is it a survival instinct?

If you look into your heart how often do you lie? How often are you what you really are? I don’t think it’s a survival instinct, maybe it’s something that we all do constantly, probably even without realizing it.

Editorial reviews (1 review)


In stark but lyrical prose, Bakker explores themes of both isolation and intimacy.