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The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

What a peculiar little book this is! It’s written in third person narrative but told from the point of view of one single character. Usually, such writing lends the book an ominous tone, and indeed it did here. The Bay of Foxes is the story of Dawit, an Ethiopian escaped prisoner in Paris, who is befriended by the famous and aging female author known only as M.

M. gives Dawit a place to stay and bestows money and clothing upon him in exchange for intimacy. Wanting to earn his way for a monthly stipend, he soon becomes her personal secretary and even helps edit her books. However, when Dawit takes a male lover, M. becomes jealous and things spiral out of control.

The reader really gets to know Dawit as his past is revealed, his parent’s history, his imprisonment and such. But M. remains at a distance (possibly on purpose?) as the few details we learn about her come only from Dawit or other minor characters that are close business acquaintances of hers (Her publisher tells Dawit he is not the first!).

The oddity to the story is that Dawit frequently contemplates a short novel that M. is writing about their relationship. He says it’s not very good, lacks dialogue, or does not have enough conflict. In turn, it’s exactly like this book you are reading which leads you to wonder if you are supposed to be reading M.’s story (the truth is somewhat revealed in the end).

Those who are fans of Patricia Highsmith will immediately think of The Talented Mr. Ripley as I did, which makes this a fun psychological story, but also a very predictable one! Eventually, I was surprised to even see Highsmith mentioned in the storyline in a scene where Dawit’s lover is reading a Highsmith book! A little homage to the inspiration for this book, perhaps?

Either way, it’s a short character piece that lacked a lot of the intensity that Highsmith was so good at, but I still found The Bay of Foxes to be quite an enjoyable read.

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