The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

Title: The Bay of Foxes
Author: Sheila Kohler

Genre: Fiction (France / Ethiopia / 1970s / Displaced Person / December-May Affair / Torture / Homosexuality / Writers / Murder)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin (6/26/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Loved -- another top ten for 2012.
Did I finish?: I did, although I didn't want to be done!
One-sentence summary:
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, Historical Fiction, Immigrant Stories

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- it doesn't have a deceptively bucolic picture of Sardinia or Paris but rather, the damaged photo that intimates the character of M., Dawit's imperious lover, and Dawit himself -- is he frightened? Hiding? Spying?

I'm reminded of...: Marguerite Duras, Daphne DuMaurier, Patricia Highsmith

First line: Dawit is sitting at the back of the cafe in the shadows, when he notices her.

Did... I immediately think of Marguerite Duras as I read?: YES. Kohler's character of M. seemed just like Duras, right down to the similarly named novels and childhood romances. In her Acknowledgements, Kohler mentions her.

Do... I want this to become a movie, stat?: YES. A Merchant-Ivory affair, please, very visually stunning and unapologetically dark. YUM!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, do it, do it! Darkest beach reader ever, in the best way.

Why did I get this book?: The jacket blurb mentioned Nadine Gordimer and Patricia Highsmith and that immediately sold me!

Review: Three things: 1) why did this book have to end?; 2) why is Sheila Kohler not sitting next to me telling me stories all the time?; and 3) why are Kohler's novels not all in my hands this very instant?

Four word review: I adored this book.

Set in the mid-1970s, the novel follows Dawit, a young Ethiopian exile in Paris.  After his family was brutally executed following the overthrow of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, Dawit was imprisoned and tortured. A guard who was once a childhood friend helps Dawit escape, and he crosses into France illegally, living at the margins, a displaced person dependent on the generosity of friends.  Born into a life of luxury, he has no skills as an illegal laborer, and when the story opens, Dawit is literally lingering over a coffee in a cafe, afraid to return to his friend's home without means, when he spots M.  M. is a famous French author, now in her 60s, notorious for her spare novels about her childhood love affair with a Somali man.  M. is immediately taken with Dawit, and in a matter of days, sweeps him into her life, clearly wanting to relieve her affair.

What seems like a Cinderella story, of course, dissolves into something darker.  As M.'s obsession with Dawit grows, he feels himself experiencing the same apprehension, fear, and tension he did while imprisoned in Ethiopia.  Feelings of gratitude transform into resentment.  As he grows healthier, bolder, stronger, M.'s need for him in her life grows as well, until --

You get the idea.  It's dark, twisted, gruesome, gorgeous, chilling, amusing, cowardly and heroic.  I closed the book in love with everyone, messed up as they are, captivated by the superficial and glamorous world of 1970s Paris, Sardinia, and Rome.  Pretty people, ugly secrets.

At 207 pages, this is a zippy fast read, but I lingered over this one because I didn't want it to end.  Kohler's writing is spare, like Duras', like M.'s, but there's so much impact between the words.  I was greatly reminded of Patricia Highsmith, right down to some of the plot elements, but found Kohler's homage to be delightful in its own right.

Also, I will say I consider this a historical novel in that it's a contemporary book written and set in the 1970s, flavored and influenced by that era.  It feels vintage-y, in a way.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Bay of Foxes to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only. Ends 7/20.

Comments

  1. Very interesting! I'm not sure this is a book I would have selected on my own, but your thoughts have definitely persuaded me.

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    Replies
    1. Oooh, it's darkly delicious -- lovely for a summer weekend if you're in a mood! ;)

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  2. I'm not sure I'd call this a beach read but it definitely interests me, especially sine you didn't want it to end.

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    1. Oh, it's so insidious and delicious -- reading this with a cocktail is definitely a sneaky armchair escape! ;) Do consider it -- it was so darkly divine!

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  3. Ooh, Audra loves this one - a high recommendation! I love your blog - I pick up so many books I'd never have heard of otherwise. This one is going in my "find at library ASAP" list. I may need to just start an "Audra pile" to keep track!

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    1. Jessie -- you're so sweet!! If I could bear to part with my copy, I'd give it to you -- I still have your pile growing my my office! ;)

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  4. I am very intrigued by this one. I love DuMaurier so as soon as I hear that comparison I want to jump!

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    1. There's a kind of dated, vintage-y feel to this book -- I hope you enjoy this one if you get it -- so deliciously dark!

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  5. You've convinced me to read this one too. It sounds divine!

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    1. Carrie -- divine is exactly right -- it's SO GOOD!

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  6. Audra, sounds like this would be right up my alley, and I loved your passionate, yet realistic review.
    trish hillery

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    Replies
    1. Aww, thank you, Trish! Let me know what you think of this if you do get to it!

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  7. This sounds like a book that I must have, and your review leaves me craving it right now! I have gotten my fill of gentle and funny and thoughtful reads as of late, and would love to fill the gap with something darker. It sounds amazing and is going at the top of my list. Fantastic review today. I loved reading it!

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    1. Heather, this is THE perfect antidote, then, for the funny and fluffy -- it is so twisted -- in the best way!

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  8. I already knew I wanted to read this, but your review has made me more determined than ever!

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    1. Do, do, do! I would love to know what you think -- it's so worth getting, and getting fast!

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  9. You make me want to read this book. Thanks for the enthusiastic review that has made the TBR grow by just one more book!

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  10. I have the eGalley and am so excited after reading your thoughts. Glad u loved it.

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  11. This sounds really good! This is one I ended up not getting to review even though it took me forever to decide but in an effort to only read the books I realllly want to... ah, well I'll read this one eventually. The relationship between the two of them sounds crazy!

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  12. Great review! obviously from an excellent reader. S.

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  13. I read about this book last week and instantly thought 2 things...I have to read this book and I am almost positive Audra will be reviewing it! Yay! After reading your fantastic review I want to read the story of Dawit and the rather creepy M.
    I want to check out some of Kohler's other books, too!

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  14. Thanks for linking this to the Immigrant Stories Challenge - I like that it focuses on immigration to a country other than the US.

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