With the publication of this and Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, it would appear that not only the raven resonates with death and grieving. Black crows symbolise insights of the future and the Welsh goddess of war and death, Morrigan, and is perhaps an appropriate inclusion in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. This is editor, Max Porter’s first book, which has certainly blown the reading audience away with his unusual poetic short story, partly narrated by a extraordinarily meta-fictional crow.
In a London flat, two young boys face the insufferable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and unkempt romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. However, they are visited by Crow who encompasses many functions; antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described maudlin bird is engrossed by this grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.
In this well-talked about and acclaimed debut, Porter’s compassion and exceptional style shines through the character of the Crow, a grief counsellor in this book ultimately. Clearly the arrival of exciting new talent this book is a unique text, poetic in style, laden with humour. The prose is beautiful yet blunt at times, with a narrative that moves to the perception of the “Dad”, “Boys” and “Crow.”
This is a tiny novella that strikes a deep chord with the reader, reluctant to leave (like the Crow in the book), and is most likely unlike anything you have read previously. Crow reinforces the Dad’s fascination with Ted Hughes, as he comes from the poetry of Hughes and also speaks in a kind of onomatopoeic verse which can be a little difficult to decipher at times. However, this in itself makes it a book to remember. It also is an important one for a sense of realism in handling grief, as it tracks the Dad and Boys with their frustrations and loss. The contrast between the bird and the other three characters is that they of course cannot escape this grief, which reinforces the shackling.
“They offer me a space on the sofa next to them and the pain of them being so naturally kind is like appendicitis. I need to double over and hold myself because they are so kind and keep regenerating and recharging their kindness without any input from me.” Lines like this are to be savoured throughout Porter’s debut and undoubtedly this book would get tongues wagging. I am excited about what next may come from the pen of Max Porter if this be his debut.