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There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).
I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.
This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox - the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.
Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.
Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision - which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.
So......this is a George Saunders book, winner of the Man Booker Prize, a highly acclaimed author. And that is why he can write this drivel and pass it off as some kind of literary work of pure genius, whilst charging a ridiculous price for the honour of owning it. I was expecting more, especially having read a few reviews which raved about it - the hardback book is small, smaller than A5 and it runs to 42 written pages, most of which have an illustration on them as well. There are three pages given purely to illustration within the book. There are 10 additional pages at the beginning - 5 of which are blank, the rest have the title on them....twice! Also information such as publishing details and authors previous titles. There are 11 additional pages at the back - 9 of which are blank, the rest have details about the author and one about the typeface. This does not include the inside front and back facings. It took me a mere 30 minutes to read my £9.99 book, that equates to about 33p a minute of reading. And for what..........? The story is about Fox 8 who has learned to speak "Yuman" - it is Fox 8 who provides the narrative in his Yuman-speak language. Written phonetically in places, but elsewhere in perfect English (such a clever fox), portraying how Fox 8 has acquired this skill by listening at the window of a luving Yuman woman reading to her pup, and his experiences of Yumans, which are not in any way particularly pleasant. In itself it is a simple, not even salutary tale, quite dark and depressing in places with no happy ending. In the words of Fox 8 "If you want your Storys to end happy, try being niser" I guess the message Saunders is attempting to get across here is to respect all animals, even foxes who now live alongside us in our urban settings, yet are often treated with contempt as vermin. You cannot tame the natural world and seen from the perspective of a wild animal it offers a sad counterpoint, seeing its pride in having acquired a skill which it does not really understand. I cannot say if this is a YA book or an adult book. It is written in the style of a childrens book (I am sure a child could have even written it), but I question, does the underlying message get through to its intended target audience? It is lauded as "darkly comic", but it did not make me smile one little bit. I concluded disappointingly thinking "I spent £9.99 on this load of twaddle and 14 blank sheets of paper?????" the message not lost on me, but thinking "did I spend all that to line this man's pockets only to read the bleeding obvious?"
Initially I was surprised at how much dislike this has garnered from reviewers on Goodreads, this is a George Saunders after all, one of the hottest authors to brown-nose in 2013!
But then I read the reviews and I'm not surprised at all. They are all looking for deeper hiding means, comparing the style to a million previous weird uses of language and looking for meta-meta-meta-fiction.
My opinion: This is a great little tale, clearly a experiment but one that undeniably works, it had me laughing all the way through, it was actually slightly poignant, and that some people have lost the ability to just enjoy a good story when it's in front of their eyes.
As a lover of all things fox, this was the perfect little gift to myself. It was lovely to read from the perspective of the animal and how simple it communicates, what made it extra special was the fact it had been written as though the fox had written it it’s self including all the spelling mistakes. The illustrations were just the icing on the cake.
I was asked to read this by my book club, so I did, during one evening on holiday. I'd been told it was short, but it was even shorter than I was expecting! However...I did like it...once I got used to the style of writing! It's a story with a message...and I liked its quirkiness...
This is a short read and is quirky and different. I am looking at the 'yuman' world through the eyes of a fox and wishing I was anything but a human being. It may be a quick read but it will stay with you forever