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The Cage

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Two mysterious strangers appear at a hotel in a small country town.

Where have they come from? Who are they? What catastrophe are they fleeing?

The townspeople want answers, but the strangers are unable to speak of their trauma. And before long, wary hospitality shifts to suspicion and fear, and the care of the men slides into appalling cruelty.

Lloyd Jones’s fable-like novel The Cage is a profound and unsettling novel about humanity and dignity and the ease with which we’re able to justify brutality.

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2018

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About the author

Lloyd Jones

70 books130 followers
Lloyd Jones was born in 1955 in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, a place which has become a frequent setting and subject for his subsequent works of fiction. He studied at Victoria University, and has worked as a journalist and consultant as well as a writer. His recent novels are: Biografi (1993); Choo Woo (1998); Here At The End of the World We Learn to Dance (2002); Paint Your Wife (2004);and Mister Pip (2007). He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Swimming to Australia (1991).

In 2003, he published a children's picture book, Napoleon and the Chicken Farmer, and this was followed by Everything You Need to Know About the World by Simon Eliot (2004), a book for 9-14 year olds. He compiled Into the Field of Play: New Zealand Writers on the Theme of Sport (1992), and also wrote Last Saturday (1994), the book of an exhibition about New Zealand Saturdays, with photographs by Bruce Foster. The Book of Fame (2000), is his semi-fictional account of the 1905 All-Black tour, and was adapted for the stage by Carol Nixon in 2003.

Lloyd Jones won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) and the Kiriyama Prize for his novel, Mister Pip (2007), set in Bougainville in the South Pacific, during the 1990s. He was also shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In the same year he undertook a Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers' Residency.

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5 stars
47 (14%)
4 stars
90 (26%)
3 stars
104 (31%)
2 stars
63 (18%)
1 star
31 (9%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Jodie Thomson.
58 reviews
April 17, 2018
This book is like Chia. I know it is good and is good for me but so very unenjoyable.
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,392 reviews141 followers
May 30, 2018
“In itself the wind is hard to hear. It has to occupy other things. It needs a split gable to rush through. Clapboard or loose windows to play and slap against. Clouds to push about. Without these, the wind is just a bully that we have heard of.”

The Cage is the sixth adult novel by New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones. Two strangers turn up in town. They seem to be survivors of some unknown catastrophe, but are unable to speak of it, unable to say where they're from, who they are. The townsfolk are sympathetic and they are given a room in the town's hotel, but their application for residency cannot be considered without the necessary details.

Within days they find themselves in a sort of cage in the hotel's yard, a cage of fencing wire for which the key is apparently missing. They are spoon-fed through a hole, sleep on the ground and have to defaecate in the dirt. A committee is formed to deal with the problem: these community minded citizens of the town call themselves the Trustees. Our narrator observes the Strangers and reports back to the Trustees, taking the minutes of their meetings and enacting decisions made.

And still they are in the cage. They do have a spade to bury their faeces, a log to sit on, the use of a hose (sometimes), blankets and towels, for all of which they are expected to be grateful. Visitors and townsfolk come to look at them, to observe the spectacle of the Strangers, their daily habits, to remark on the stink of their faeces, to watch what they do. They feed them with nuts packaged especially for the purpose and sold in the grocer’s shop, just like the animals in the zoo across the road from the hotel. Still the Strangers do not talk about what happened to them.

The Trustees consider reasonable requests from the Strangers (raspberry jam, a bed, a bath, pen and paper) but spend time justifying the reasons they cannot be granted. They resolve to act on minor, insignificant matters while ignoring actual welfare (the Strangers no proper shelter from weather). They make assumptions about the behaviour of the Strangers, about what they might need or want, and spend money on things that are neither useful nor needed by the Strangers: a memorial wall.

Eventually, it is deemed that a plate warmer, no longer used in the hotel, be placed in the cage (the nights are getting colder), powered at the discretion of the narrator, but officially two hours each morning and two hours each night. Our narrator acts in half-hearted advocacy for the Strangers, but finds himself torn between duty to the Trustees and the wants or needs of his charges.

Who said that evil prevails when good men do nothing? “I had intended to ask where the key had been found. But at the last second I couldn’t bear to. I knew he would tell a lie which, as soon as I heard it, would bind me to it and then I would inherit the deceit.” So, is it beginning to sound at all familiar? Or do we think “Couldn't happen in a civilised country!”

Jones gives the reader a compelling tale that calls us out on how we treat the homeless, the stateless, the displaced person; calls us to account for our reaction to survivors, refugees from disaster or catastrophe, our xenophobic mindset, our insistence on protocol, on red tape.

When we are taken to task for our lack of caring, for allowing their gross loss of dignity as we follow arbitrary rules without question, how we (or our elected representatives) set about blame shifting, relying on semantics, rationalising, justifying action/inaction. He wraps it all is some beautiful prose. This is a powerful read that will resonate with anyone despairing at their government’s treatment of refugees.
Profile Image for Text Publishing.
594 reviews222 followers
April 13, 2018
‘The Kiwi master who brought us Mister Pip and The Book of Fame is in fine form with this unsettling new novel that begins with two mysterious strangers arriving at a hotel in a small country town. Hospitality shifts to suspicion and fear in this allegorical, fable-like tale about humanity and dignity and the ease with which we can justify brutality.’

‘The puzzle of where the human essence lies and is shared is implicit in Jones' dark parable.’

‘It is (also) brilliant. It compels and repels.’
NZ Listener

‘With archetypal characters and a setting­ that is only roughly outlined, the story is contemporary yet feels out of time and place.’

‘A profound and unsettling allegorical fable…Its powerful message camouflaged by almost fairytale simplicity. The Cage explores how quickly humanity and dignity can segue into brutality when communication breaks down. Trust is revealed as fragile, forever at the mercy of authoritarian impulse.’
Qantas Magazine

‘Lloyd Jones’ new and possibly best novel will hold you in its narrative grip from its first page…This is exciting, risk-taking writing…Is it a fable? Probably, although it’s open enough for you to make your own interpretation, possibly more than one. Does it have antecedents? Numerous: Orwell, with the occupants of the hotel constantly watching the occupants of the cage: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its air hopeless bleakness; the Kafkaesque way unsettling events are described with deadpan detachment; and all the absurdity and hopelessness of a Beckett play.’
North & South

‘Simply, clearly and vividly written, the moral dilemma posed in The Cage will linger long in my mind.’
NZ Spin Off, Book of the Week

‘Its mastery lies in its mystery; the skill with which it leaves things unsaid. An audacious and affecting riff on the tenuousness of understanding and the frailty of good intentions. What on earth will the guy do next?’
NZ Herald

‘…A thinly disguised allegory of how easily ordinary, civilised people can lose their humanity, which reminded me of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.’
Australian Financial Review

‘Jones builds calmly, rationally, in prose shot through with instances of unexpected beauty and tenderness to a terrible climax.’
Adelaide Advertiser

‘Thought ­provoking and affecting book for readers of literary fiction where the morally questionable appears very ordinary.’

‘A dark fable of imprisonment.’
Sydney Morning Herald, What to Read in 2018

‘It is a thought-provoking and affecting book for readers of literary fiction where the morally questionable appears very ordinary.’
Books + Publishing, four stars
Profile Image for Marcus Hobson.
585 reviews93 followers
January 31, 2018
The new novel by Lloyd Jones is a shock. It is dark and disturbing and leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.

Earlier novels by Lloyd Jones, such as 'Mr Pip' or 'Hand Me Down World' have dealt with outsiders, people who have come from somewhere else. 'The Cage' is similar, but it is the reaction to the two outsiders in this book that is utterly surprising.

Two strangers arrive in a small country town. The country is not named but I assume that it is New Zealand because of a kiwi song that some schoolchildren sing. The two men, one old and the other younger, have no papers, no ID, no memory of their names or where they have come from. At first they are received civilly and given help, rooms in the local hotel. There is much wary curiosity around the town.

The story is narrated by a young man who is the nephew of the hotel owner. We see everything through his eyes. The strangers are given fence wire in case they want to make something. They produce a big ball, like a cage. It is used as a model for the full size cage they construct outside. Soon they are locked in the cage and the key is somehow 'lost'. Over weeks and months they have to accept their imprisonment. The progression of events feels too natural, too plausible. Their treatment will gradually deteriorate. Trustees from the village are appointed and the young nephew is given the task of recording everything the strangers say or do.

I come away from the novel with mixed feelings. It is undoubtedly very well written and crafted. But I am unsure about the message it is trying to tell me. Is it about the way that we treat strangers in our society, or is it more about the excuses that we make about how badly we treat people? Or to push that idea a little further, is the true message hidden in the failure to act. The failure of the narrator to take a stand and so be complicit in the actions. Eventually the hotel owner's wife will leave and the trustees will begin to resign, but these direct actions are a long time coming. Perhaps the true message is too deeply veiled below the surface.
Profile Image for B. Tollison.
Author 4 books4 followers
May 18, 2018
Reality and surrealism, humour and drama, degradation and resolution. This is basically a more accessible and enjoyable version of Kafka.

For the first 50 pages or so, I went into this with the assumption that it was a serious, straight-laced drama and so I found myself inevitably frustrated with the incongruent behaviours and dream-like logic of the characters. This was before realising maybe I shouldn't be taking things so seriously. So I resolved to approach the rest of the story more as a dark comedy – to actually embrace the absurdity and malevolent stupidity of "The Trust”. And after making that decision, things began to make more sense and I came to enjoy myself a lot more.

It's Jones' blend of dark humour and drama, reality and surrealism that really carries the story while he slowly unravels themes of isolation and the mechanisms we use in coping with our grief and understanding the grief of others. He does all this while developing his central character (the narrator) in such a meticulous and unobtrusive way that you don't even realise it's happening until the final pages are turning. Nothing is heavy handed in Jones' approach and the balance in his prose, between sparse, matter-of-fact description and understated poeticism means you're not just reading to get to the final page; there is enjoyment in the words themselves.

From the mocking of beauracracy (The Trust), the grinding repetition of the Strangers' life in the cage, the pervasive dream logic, and the incredibly self absorbed characters, there are numerous parallels between The Cage and Kafka's The Trial or Metamorphosis but where Kafka bombards the reader with dry description and a sort of detached indifference Jones takes more creative license with his prose, injects more humour, and provides a more humanistic and sympathetic hook in the form of the fate of the strangers, rather than relying purely on abstract ideas which might otherwise push the reader away.

The sensation of being trapped in a dream, running in the same spot, unable to move, pervades the story. One moment you think progress might be being made, that someone is finally taking some kind of reasonable action only for things to inevitably get worse. And it's this type of kafkaeqsue surrealism that lends a certain unpredictability to the story, that not only keeps the reader guessing about what might happen next but also effectively articulates the ceaseless frustration and helplessness of grief.

The nature of the relationship between the narrator and the two strangers is never explicitly stated and I won't include spoilers here, but the understated tone of their shared grief means the hook isn't given away, and leaves open the exact interpretation of the symbolism of the strangers and itself serves (whether this was deliberate or not) as a statement on the complexity of our own individual suffering.

Even next to the filth and degradation that Jones inflicts on his characters, The Cage still stands as a beautiful piece of writing from one word to the next, from page to page, from cover to cover.
Profile Image for Jenny Esots.
421 reviews2 followers
May 7, 2018
Who were the strangers?
Homeless tramps?
Refugees from a catastrophe that no-one knows anything about.
The paranoia is rampant and intoxicating throughout this disturbing and unsettling tale.
The trustees who monitor 'the cage' are a study in denial.
How could the trustees condone keeping the strangers in such filth?
There is the obvious metaphor of animals kept in the zoo.
Powerless and constantly watched.
The strangers in our world are many, to be kept at arms length.
Sent to an island until they either give up or return to where they came from.
Every which way they lose.
Far from an easy read but captivating.
Profile Image for Tundra.
652 reviews29 followers
July 29, 2018
This is definitely a grim allegorical tale which examines, with unpleasant intensity, our moral compasses and a tendency for our politicians (and many others) to demonstrate a lack of social and emotional intelligence. The juxtaposition of the naive narrator and the extreme calculated ill treatment of the ‘strangers’ by the ‘Trustees’ caused me to cringe with distaste.

I felt like Lloyd Jones was placing one of those mirrors from a ‘hall of mirrors’ maze in front of the reader. We think we know what we look like but the reflection is disturbing and unattractive and you want to deny what you see.

This is a very clever book examining the plight of refugees and the use of incarceration and what it may or may not hope to achieve. There is a strong stink of ‘shit’ that pervades every corner of this book (literally and figuratively) and a lady who wears a hat that is desperately being waited for - she is hope.

This book provides a different perspective to Exit West but is similar in its use of magical realism as a tool to grapple with a difficult conversation.
Profile Image for Robert Wechsler.
Author 11 books125 followers
April 25, 2019
An excellent dark, dark fable about the dehumanization of refugees. It’s both very direct and specific in its approach, with a first-person narration by a rather naive yet somewhat understanding young man. And yet it is also abstract, especially troubling because of how everyone, including the narrator, views what is happening, most notably its inevitability and how what they are doing is all for the good of the refugees, who are not cooperating sufficiently. The only negative is that it is a bit extended for a fable. A 4.5.
Profile Image for Rach Denholm.
183 reviews1 follower
March 21, 2018
An allegorical fable of power and cruelty; social control and fear of what is not understood. An interesting thing is that the central characters are all men which means men have the power over men, and rely on men to enforce the powerful rules. Some interesting observations on what it takes both to be in control, and to stay in control. The choice to remain silent rather than oppose power is explored, along with the devastating consequences of ignorant decisions.
Two strangers arrive in a town, having escaped a disaster that they cannot or will not discuss. As a consequence of not understanding the situation, and the strangers having no identity, no papers, and no shared history to unite them; the townsfolk entrap and mistreat them. Whether the book is a comment on past atrocities or a prophetic piece is unclear, but its messages are not.
Not an enjoyable or uplifting read but thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Lisa Hynes.
88 reviews12 followers
May 8, 2019
A promising and intriguing start but the best thing about stories that open with a hundred questions is that, normally, along the way the questions are gradually answered. Not in this book. I was tempted to give up but kept on going in the hope of at least some answers but none came. There is probably a point being made but if there is, I missed it and pretty much hated this book.
Profile Image for Bram.
Author 6 books147 followers
February 23, 2018
So strange. So intriguing. So morally challenging. A completely unexpected dark fable from the author of one of my favourite novels (Mister Pip), The Cage will make you rethink the way you view and treat "the other" in our midsts.
Profile Image for Nona.
336 reviews4 followers
May 4, 2023
Well here is a book I have long pondered over writing a review.
It was disturbing, whitty, historical, scary, descriptive, horrific, insensible, disgusting and yes I could probably add a hundred more adjectives trying to describe this book.
I found it one I had to try and analyse and ask myself what is the writer trying to say. Is he telling us humanity has degraded itself over years of domination and brutality? I think the simple answer is yes, but I also have to say Lloyd JONES thinks on a different level than me, and I do not think I am capable of analysing this novel.
Recommended? Yes, but cautiously.
Profile Image for Nic Ayson.
208 reviews3 followers
September 14, 2018
It's difficult to rate a book with such filth, degradation and bleakness with four stars but Jones's ability to write of such horrors with such beauty and poeticism is captivating. So as I shuddered my way through this allegorical tale of two strangers suffering deep cruelty at the hands of 'the Trust', I revelled in Jones's masterful writing. Fear and loathing, cruel, mistrust versus doubt, compassion, dignity and hope - this story challenges the way in which witness and accept difference and how quickly fear and distrust can intensify and take hold of a community.
Profile Image for Nancy.
932 reviews38 followers
April 24, 2019
Finished: 24.04.2019
Genre: novel
Rating: C-
#Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlisted 2019
Needs a good editor....
and here is why.

My Thoughts

Profile Image for Erica.
322 reviews32 followers
April 30, 2020
Well-written, but think this might have been a case of picking the wrong book at the wrong time. I'd also read something in a similar vein only a month ago. May have got a 4* rating otherwise. If it sounds like it's up your alley I'd recommend picking it up.
Profile Image for Laura May.
5 reviews
June 28, 2020
This book has such a promising premise and I was so disappointed that it just didn't hit the mark for me.
Two strangers arriving in an unknown town, suffering the effects of a catastrophe they are unable to speak of. The residence of the town are fascinated by the pair trying to coax out their story in hopes of protecting themselves from whatever the strangers have been through. After frustrations build with their lack of openness, the pair are kept in a cage like structure with the trustees deciding what is needed for them to exist comfortably.

This novel tries to explore some incredibly important themes; the way we treat those who have been displaced, the way we trick ourselves into believing that providing basic provisions means we are caring, the difference between keeping someone alive and helping them to live.

However, I just didn't find it compelling to read. The pace felt off and for a book that is character driven rather than plot driven, I didn't feel the characters were explored in any depth. Aspects of potential character development/exploration where touched on but it felt like they were brushed over quite quickly, resulting in me not being invested in any of the characters and the message not being conveyed as well as it could have been. This may have been a result of trying to explore such large important themes in a new, less on the nose style.

This book is clever and talks about things of great importance, but for me the execution just doesn't live up to what I was hoping for.
Profile Image for Val.
2,425 reviews77 followers
July 19, 2018
It is tempting to see this book as a commentary on US policy towards immigrants, but I think the allegory is a wider one about the treatment of people who need and deserve help and get persecution. People fleeing a disaster do not bring that disaster with them, they are trying to escape it. Any action or inaction which makes them seem different, does not make them different.
There are other reviews which tell you what happens in this book, but I suggest you read the book.
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,861 reviews198 followers
January 5, 2019
‘What do we know? We know that something has happened .’

Our narrator, a boy known to us only as ‘Sport’ tells us about two strangers seeking refuge, at his Uncle Warwick’s hotel:

‘With darkness falling they stop finally outside a hotel with its flickering sign, ‘All Welcome’. And this is how, three months ago, they came to enter our world .’

They are two men, one older one younger. They are bedraggled, with battered suitcases. They are traumatised but are unable to speak about what has happened. They cannot tell the townspeople what their names are. They are frightened, these two men, of a cloud that appears in the sky, and they wait patiently for the appearance of ‘the woman in a hat’. The men are nicknamed Doctor and Mole, and in the beginning, Warwick treats them well. They are given a room in the hotel basement.

They will not accept clothes offered to them to replace their rags:

‘They could not abandon their own clothes without abandoning the lives of those who had worn them .’

Still trying to find out what they have fled from, Warwick gives them some wire, which they form into a small cage. A bigger cage is constructed in the hotel’s yard, and somehow, they become locked in it. No one can find the key. Sport believes this is an accident.

The town’s small businessmen form a board of trustees to try to figure out what to do with the two men. They give Sport the job of writing down everything the men do and say: they want to know what the strangers know.

“They are not incarcerated, they are temporarily caged,” explain the trustees.

Wary hospitality has been replaced by suspicion. Fear fuels cruelty. The men are housed in unspeakable conditions: food is spooned into the cage, one corner of which they must use to relieve themselves. The men repeatedly ask to be freed: they are cold and filthy. But Sport doesn’t have the key and is afraid to ask his uncle.

Having read so far, you know this isn’t going to end well. Us and them stories seldom do. This may be a novel, ‘a profound and unsettling fable’ as it is described on the back cover, but it’s frighteningly easy to believe. And not too hard to draw some parallels with certain contemporary situations.

‘The question. What is the question? The question is this. At what point did I know what was going to happen? The second question. Why did I not do anything to prevent it ?’

In the novel, the words are Sport’s. In real life they belong to each of us. This is one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
78 reviews
September 28, 2018
I found this a hard read but that does not detract from the quality of Jones writing.
I understand inspired by coming across stranded migrants somewhere in Europe this book is a metaphor for the journey these migrants are on. Shows how heartless we can be to the plight of others.
Profile Image for Befff.
14 reviews3 followers
February 19, 2018
I don't think the novel will make people question how they would act as much it should. It's just there, but doesn't pull you all the way in.
Profile Image for Alan.
509 reviews24 followers
April 8, 2019
‘Everyone is born to a place on this earth. And everyone has a cover they can slip in and out of. We ask, we prod. They shake their heads, then look disconsolate. What are they to do? What are we to do?’

In unsettling times do we seek solace in stories that give us comfort and reassurance, or do we turn to unsettling, evasive stories that defy answers? In an interview Haruki Murakami once pointed out that during the fall of Communism in eastern Europe he saw sales of his books increase; as he put it, confusing times led many to read his confusing books. I start with this because Lloyd Jones’ new novel is an often-unsettling read, with answers in very short supply.

Two men arrive at an hotel in a small town, dishevelled and with no ID or idea from where they have come. The ‘strangers’ are taken in by the hotel owner Warwick, his wife Dawn and their nephew (orphaned a while ago); they are named ‘Doctor’ and ‘Mole’ in the absence of their true names. These labels are an important theme throughout the book: who are we if we do not have our own identity? The boy is given the job of observing the pair and keeping a ledger, and this is how we see the town deal with these two men. The boy himself is never named; we know him as ‘Sport’ because this is what his uncle calls him. We know there has been some sort of catastrophe, but neither of the men can talk about or can give any answers to the questions put to them. They are given some wire to create something, and they make some sort of sculpture, which is taken to represent their experiences: it ‘represents the conundrum they find themselves in – asked to describe a catastrophe which they cannot, asked to provide documentation which they lack, asked to speak of a place that no longer exists.’ A large-scale model is constructed and, somehow, the two strangers find themselves locked inside it. While the hunt is on for the key their internment in the cage begins.

A council of Trustees is set up, they are fed through a slot in the cage, but their conditions soon become intolerable. There is much made of their degradation, most vividly in their lack of toilet facilities, and they soon become exhibits in some sort of weird zoo – as much as the animals in the town’s real zoo, which becomes a parallel metaphor as Sport and his cousin make numerous visits throughout the book. The novel requires considerable leaps of faith, for this is more fable or allegory than real life. Existential problems are at the core of the book: the townsfolk do not want to cut open the cage to free the men because they are ‘loathe to destroy property, intellectual or otherwise, that belonged to the strangers.’ Their otherness, and how they become defined precisely by that otherness, is a troubling theme; the ‘them versus us’ scenario with which the book deals is presented to us in, at times, all its illogical logic. It almost becomes something itself, something that once out in the open cannot be controlled. I won’t go any further into the plot and how it all unravels; suffice to say it doesn’t answer the overwhelming question, offer resolution or neatness.

Jones’ writing is sparse, beautifully haunting, matching the contrast between the confinement of the cage and the vastness of the countryside. The book also becomes a study on the act of writing itself; Sport’s ledger is meant to convey facts, and he frequently questions how he feels, and how he can communicate these feelings. And again, this is at the heart of the book: we don’t want to engage with the ‘other’, because it is easier to see them as less than human. We may see their despair or boredom, but we don’t want to engage with it, to humanise it, to empathise.

I can see why this book would not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but I found it a rewarding, unsettling, profound piece of writing. In unsettling times do we turn to comfort and solace in what we read? If that’s all we do then we risk becoming precisely the people who turn their backs on others. All the way through the book I was feeling that this is something in the vein of Kafka or Auster or Beckett; the fact that there are no answers is in itself the only answer. A genuinely thought-provoking and necessary book, this one will haunt my memory for some time, I think.
Profile Image for Lisa.
3,309 reviews417 followers
February 9, 2019
The Cage is such a devastating, confronting novel, I found myself not wanting to continue, yet unable to stop reading.

I knew Jones to be an author who writes about outsiders, most recently for me in Hand Me Down World. But The Cage is something else again.
This is the blurb:
Two mysterious strangers appear at a hotel in a small country town.
Where have they come from? Who are they? What catastrophe are they fleeing?
The townspeople want answers, but the strangers are unable to speak of their trauma. And before long, wary hospitality shifts to suspicion and fear, and the care of the men slides into appalling cruelty.
Lloyd Jones’s fable-like novel The Cage is a profound and unsettling novel about humanity and dignity and the ease with which we’re able to justify brutality.

The treatment of the strangers is puzzling in the way it hints at events and motivations — yet it seems to be uncomfortably familiar. These two bedraggled men do not—cannot—respond to expectations, which soon morph into requirements. And when those requirements are not met, the men are tricked into entering a cage and kept there in conditions too appalling for me to describe.

A group of townsmen form a committee to 'manage' the situation, and Sport, a young man living in his uncle's hotel after the death of his parents, is assigned the role of 'observer'. He nicknames the older man Doctor, and the young man Mole, recording everything these they do in his ledger. At first the reader feels some hope that he represents some kind of humanity:
What have we learned so far? This is the most persistent question the Trustees ask.
So far, I would say we have learned to overcome our revulsion and shame. (p.61)

But he is only too easily slides into blaming the strangers:
So much depends on patience. The strangers are like cattle that dot the hillsides. They are so still they could be mistaken for porcelain. Few thoughts to share ever surface on their faces or leave their mouths. If they truly care about us, they would make more of an effort. (p.67)

He visits the town zoo because it helps [him] understand life in the cage, and he recognises the suffering of a rhino in its pen:
And when I lock eyes with it I see that I am part of its problem—that I am implicated in its suffering. (p.68)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/02/09/t...
Profile Image for Vaughan Willis.
32 reviews
August 13, 2018
A wise fable, beautiful, original and disturbing, with strong notes of magical realism. Two male “strangers” come to a town and are accommodated in a hotel, then a cage adjacent to it where they are confined and observed like animals in a zoo. By the NZ author of Mr Pip, could this be an allegory for the Manus or Christmas Island detention centres? No, I decided. Rather more existential, but then I remembered reading that it was inspired by Jones’ sight of refugees at Keleti Station, Budapest. Brought to mind Patrick de Witt’s Undermajordomo Minor, or J.M. Coetzee’s The Schooldays of Jesus. Has an elusive, constantly surprising and shifting quality that destabilizes. Narrated from a first-person viewpoint by what seems to be the nephew of the hotel owner Uncle Warwick, describes the nephew’s interactions with the two strangers (who won’t supply their names or any details about themselves), “Doctor” and Mole,” and reports on meetings by “the Trustees” about the strangers. There is an elusive and mysterious “woman who wears a hat,” who seems to have authority over the strangers, and a key to the cage that mysteriously goes missing, only to be found in the pocket of a garment put aside to be mended. A brilliant piece of work but avoid if you need a plot. Could this be one of the most significant books NZ has ever produced? The lyricism of the writing could be the star of the book.
Profile Image for Jeni Brown.
225 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2022
The allegorical aspect of this book pushes it to 4 stars for me, although I found the ending out of sync with the strong start. Perhaps a deep sense of dissatisfaction was the expected outcome for the reader. The balance of the story - deliberately blurred and generic details that made it possible for anyone (in the West) to see themselves in the protagonist and the subjects of the story alongside the disturbing details that made the plight specific and horrible - was handled well. The ways in which we treat those we see as other (fascination, attempts to confine them within our norms and expectations, misattribution of motivation/meaning, expulsion) were all covered neatly. The "strangers" attempts and inability to meet the requirements of their hosts/captors and the juxtaposition of experiences (the captors running inside when it rains, leaving the strangers unsheltered in storms; the strangers defecating in their cage while the observer watches perched atop the indoor plumbing) were heartbreaking and effectively rendered.
Profile Image for Ben Thurley.
440 reviews23 followers
August 18, 2019
This is a dark parable of cruelty and human ingenuity to justify indifference to suffering and retributive or supposedly precautionary brutality. It is a Kakfaesque tale perfect in an age of indefinite detention, demonisation of refugees, ever-expanding cruelties against the most vulnerable of persons.

In nameless town, two strangers – survivors of an unnamed, possibly unnameable trauma – arrive and are taken in, at first into hotel rooms but soon – as they cannot or will not provide further details of their identities and backgrounds, they are caged in the yard behind the hotel. The townspeople are careful to maintain a bureaucratic objectivity regarding their treatment, but the progressive degradation and humiliation they suffer becomes its own justification. The cruelty meted out must surely, the townspeople reassure themselves, relate to hidden flaws or disturbing secrets of the strangers, a contagion that must be contained.

924 reviews
March 16, 2018
The place and time of the town you enter in this intriguing fable is just close enough to be familiar - and that's where the reader's fear lies: that this story is happening around us as we choose to ignore it. Jones explores the human distrust of the stranger, when our own fears compel us to act without compassion or trust. In observing the behaviour of the two caged strangers, in recording their movements and reactions and deterioration, the adolescent given this "job" remains distant from his own humanity. And, in witnessing the distance constructed between the townspeople and the strangers, readers are given the opportunity to see a reflection of our own distancing, emotional and physical. Not a political statement, such as Serong's "On the Java Ridge", this fable hits us hard with its portrait of a society fast losing its humanity.
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28 reviews5 followers
March 4, 2020
Described in the blurb as a 'profound and unsettling fable', this book failed to meet my expectations. I expected to learn more and feel emotionally moved. There is of course the possibility that I read it with the wrong mindset, as at certain parts I didn't understand the meaning or reasons behind it e.g. 'the woman in the hat'. The ending was unsatisfying and I would've preferred if more loose ends were tied up. Maybe it's just one of those stories where the audience must infer and even create their own explanations, but to me this is lazy writing. On a positive note, I enjoyed the parallels between the zoo visits and the cage. Jones' writing is also excellent; I loved the way he described the storm.
153 reviews
July 3, 2022
I am a huge Lloyd Jones fan, and I give the Cage 3+ (compared to the Fish which was 3-). Both books are observations about "othering" of people.

The book tells story of two strangers who will not talk about their experience and are treated with arbitrary pubishment in pursuit of a nobler goal/better society by their captors. There is little explanation about why the captors think their actions are justified - it is just the way things are. And the victims are equally acuiescent. The banality of evil.

I was hoping for more, but appreciated the opportunity to think about the issues that underpin the tale.

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