Lloyd Jones’s fable-like novel The Cage is both profound and unsettling. We asked the multi-award winning Kiwi author to share the story's origins and create book club questions to help guide your discussion.
Where do stories come from? From within and without, or as some have it a story is both a mirror and a window. A swinging door between the world and the subconscious.
The bones of The Cage are in the newspapers and on television screens every day. Large populations on the move across international land borders and seas are a phenomena of our time. I was in Europe when the Syrian crisis broke, and happened to be in Budapest with my daughter when three thousand Syrian refugees were prevented boarding trains at Keleti Station — in effect were kept hostage — men, women, children, babies, the elderly.
The unsympathetic reception of these refugees by the local population was deeply distressing and at times shocking. At the time I wondered what would happen if the same scenario happened at Wellington Railway Station. Would we behave with the same callous indifference and hostility ?
The station at Keleti was in effect a cage for the Syrians escaping war. Their journey stalled by their failure to have registered as refugees at their first landfall, which for many of them was Greece. Well, what to do? They cannot return to have that moment over. They are not allowed to continue their journey for their failure to have done what EU rules require. Hence, a stalemate of Kafkaesque proportions.
What to write? And, why?
I was working on a different project at the time. But, there comes a moment when something urgent arises . . .
It’s a feeling within. Something has to be expressed, and it has to be done so immediately. It was this sense of urgency that produced The Cage. Sometimes, an allegory will address another book or, at the very least, events off the page. I don't think there is any mystery about what I am addressing.
People have described The Cage as a fable, and I am happy with that description so long as it is meant in the Kafka sense of a fable where the psychological conditions of place is foregrounded.
Lloyd Jones' questions for your book club to discuss The Cage:
- Since I chose to write in the style of a fable – I wonder, does this demand a different way of reading?
- How does the novel reflect the refugee situation?
- Does the vagueness of location and of what actually happened to cause the strangers to flee their home help make the story universal?
- What effect does filtering the narrative through the young narrator have? For instance, where are your sympathies?
- What role does music have in the novel?
- Discuss the names I have used for the characters.
- What is the position of the witness? And, what is particular about the language that the witness adopts?
- Lloyd Jones
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