I remember being scared that something must, surely, go wrong, if we were this happy, her and me, in the early days, when our love was settling into the shape of our lives like cake mixture reaching the corners of the tin as it swells and bakes. Grief is the Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter
Sometimes books find us. For me, Grief is the Thing With Feathers was one of those books. A miserable rainy day following some bad news, I found myself hiding in Daunt Books (the big, fabulous one in Marylebone), forlornly stalking the shelves and attempting to shake my foul mood.
Perhaps my frame of mind meant that the unassuming novella with the word 'grief' and sketchy black crow on the cover stood out all the more. And how wonderful that it did! I was so glad to bring this to the table as the first read for my newly created, monthly book club.
This is not an ordinary book. Max Porter blends together so many literary forms - myth, magic, wonder, poetry, short story, language, make belief, grief - and melds it all together, with a giant, looming meta-fictional crow acting as narrator for most of the story.
Porter adeptly handles the theme of grief, the bereft experience of his protagonist and two sons following the unexpected death of the wife and mother. A Ted Hughes scholar, the protagonist begins conversing with a giant crow, as a way of dealing with his grief. Porter allows us access to the mundane and tender moments that become larger than life in the face of grief - the mother's hairbrush in the bathroom, the bath time routine of the boys, a messy kitchen left just as from the day she died - almost as large as the crow who pursues them throughout the household and commands that he will be there for as long as he is required.
Porter captures the uncanny way children often respond to loss, and how the boys of the story in turn start to help their father cope with his grief, in a way that is heartbreaking and beautiful.
We're given a little glimpse into their future, the way life moves on, and how there is a loving outcome for the boys, but we are never quite offered a full explanation for the appearance of the crow, and the collusion between father and sons as to his existence. Imaginary or real?
Sometimes it's best not to know.
A beautiful sad, yet loving book. I would highly recommend lending your heart to it for an afternoon.
This book was the first book choice for The Introverted Book Club. A monthly bookish meet-up, where we share our thoughts of a good book over coffee. Our book choices focus on themes of psychology, emotional health, and writers of non-western backgrounds.