Review | Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Grief is the Thing with Feathers, other than the basic plot. I anticipated an unusual, haunting story filled with metaphor, but it goes beyond that to deliver something truly remarkable.

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After the death of his wife and mother to his children, Dad is struggling to cope with the loss alongside his work and caring for his two boys. Crow arrives to help the family, a bird that only the family can see: a nanny, a grief counsellor and a friend. Told through prose and poetry, this highly experimental novel views loss from the perspectives of the lover the sons and grief itself.

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There is a part of me that loves this novella. There is another part of me that has absolutely no idea how I feel about this novella.

I think first and foremost it is probably best if you go into it knowing about the poet Ted Hughes – particularly his poem The Crow. I know a little bit about Hughes, but have never read the poem. It’s only in recent years I’ve come to appreciate poetry, so my knowledge of it is somewhat limited. This novella seems to hinge on the reader being a lover of poetry and having an extensive repertoire of it. If you like poetry, if you love Hughes, you’ll get this.

My love for it comes from the experimental nature of the writing; the combination of prose and poetry to disorientating effect is something I appreciate in writing, especially when it’s done as well as this is. The writing pushes boundaries, meaning genre is actually difficult to pin down – is it a novella with poetry, or a long prose-poem? I’ll let you decide that one. I think this disorientation benefits the story of grief. The pain of loss is an intense and confusing time, and Porter captures this beautifully in his complex writing.

Crow is a wonderful character, both sympathetic to the family’s pain and mocking it. His strange outbursts of crow-like language are funny within a book that deals with serious, brutal stuff. His identity as grief itself is full of analysis and wit and it is his passages that carry the narrative along

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Because of the strangeness of the novel, it’s difficult to say more. I think that it is one of those books that requires multiple readings in order to get the full grasp of it, and, as I said, a comparative look to the poetry of Ted Hughes probably wouldn’t go a miss either.

I will definitely read it again. Perhaps you could read it with me and let me know what you think.

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