Top Review: Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is the debut novella from Max Porter, a senior editor at Granta and known for editing the Man Booker Prize-winning novel ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. It’s a stunning experiment in form, entwining verse with prose to tell the story of a family caught in the clutches of grief. Rowena Morcom, Editor of gr, reviewed the novella for our December issue. 

grief

Small hardcover books always appeal visually to me and Grief is the Thing with Feathers is no exception. The look and feel of these books always make me feel that I am in for something special when I open them. A young London family is mourning the recent death of a wife and mother. The father and the two sons are struggling to manage their grief, each in their own way. The father is a writer who, while grieving, has been penning a book about Ted Hughes called Ted Hughes’ Crow on the Couch: A wild analysis. And it comes about one evening that a bird called Crow visits the house, only to stay.

The book is strung together with thoughts from the characters – ‘Dad’, ‘Crow’ and ‘Boys’ – over three parts, following them as they come to terms with the loss. For such a little book it tackles big themes. We understand the struggle that the family members face as they begin to heal and how Crow helps the family not only with healing, but also with the father’s writing of the book.

Like its near namesake, this book is also poetic, and it leaves me in awe of Max Porter’s writing skill.

I instinctively associate crows with sinister feelings because they are so often linked with death, ghosts, Gothic stories and tales of dark suspense. Crow is certainly no angel, but he exemplifies truth and life, just as it is, laid bare and raw. He can make you wince.

The book’s title plays on the title of a poem by 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, ‘Hope Is the Thing with Feathers’. Like its near namesake, this book is also poetic, and it leaves me in awe of Max Porter’s writing skill. To define Grief Is the Thing with Feathers seems nearly impossible. Is it a fable? In the end, I suppose, it doesn’t matter, because however you classify it, this book is truly special.

Four and a half stars – Faber

Reviewed by Rowena Morcom

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