An Emily Dickinson scholar from the Netherlands journeys to Wales, ostensibly to carry on her research but more realistically, to escape from a scandal involving one of her students.
Agnes arrives in Wales in November, when days get grim and dark fairly early, an atmosphere that’s well-suited to her loneliness. She rents a farmhouse and soon meets Rhys Jones, who tends his sheep and helps orient her to the small local community. Concerned that the 10 domestic geese are rapidly diminishing in number owing to the predations of a fox, Agnes constructs a crude pen to try to protect them. As she desultorily works on her translation of Dickinson’s poetry, she muses about her past—her brief but intense affair with a student and the hounding that occurred shortly after. Bakker also intercuts scenes with Anges’ husband, still in the Netherlands, who has no idea where his wife has gone, though scurrilous notices on the campus bulletin board make the “why” of her disappearance apparent. Although Agnes has few visitors, another Jones shows up (she wonders whether that’s the only surname in Wales), this one a young man named Bradwen who had dropped out of university to help plot a hiking trail across the landscape. Agnes—who introduces herself as “Emilie” (in honor of Dickinson) to Bradwen—begins to repeat the past by showing sexual yearning toward Bradwen, but she’s frustrated by his reticence. When Rhys shows up to check on Agnes, he’s surprised to find Bradwen there. Revelations follow.
In stark but lyrical prose, Bakker explores themes of both isolation and intimacy.