There are novels that make you face the inside darkness of the characters presented and form your own opinions of their actions and The Bay of Foxes is exactly that kind of book. It took me awhile to get into the story, and for a book just over 200 pages, I normally would not have pressed onward when I was distracted and indifferent, but I am so thankful that I did. Despite the slow beginning, which I now know was setting up the amazing rest of the book; The Bay of Foxes is tremendous. Sheila Kohler paints a picture of France, the world and life through the eyes of a terrified, yet educated Ethiopian refugee Dawit and the book is far from disappointing.
Dawit meets the famous author, known only as M., who completely transforms his life through a chance meeting in a café. His striking good looks and past education are endearing to the aging author and she invites Dawit to arrive at her home in a few days and she will remove him from the slum and help him. Not only does M. remove Dawit from poverty, fear and the charity of his only friend, she transforms his life. Dawit acts as M.’s secretary, editor and companion and as he is draped in expensive clothes and well fed, she hopes for more from the young man. M. shows Dawit off, but it becomes clear to her that he has no sexual interest in her, not only because of her age and the circumstance, but also because he is gay.
Dawit is bright, fluent in multiple languages and has a terrible past as a refugee. All of this reflects his aristocratic upbringing and his terrible time after an uprising in his homeland. A quiet, almost passable character at first, Dawit grows to be a figure of passion, strength and intrigue. M. is of course presented as a formidable character, but as her sexual advances are continually rebuffed, her jealousy grows and her dark side emerges more so than her surface personality. When the two travel to her villa, known as The Bay of Foxes, more layers of the story unfold as M. begins to fade away and Dawit falls in love.
Kohler’s story gets stronger as Dawit does. When he finally faces M.’s ultimate venom, he makes a critical choice that will change his life forever. His actions are not applaudable, but in a twisted way they are understandable which seems to be the exact effect that Kohler was going for. The end of this book is truly great and seeing how Dawit continues on, in spite of his actions, is quite remarkable.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
A review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.