Now this is quite a book and it is one you should not be deceived by. It is small — just a 114 pages in total — and some of those pages have just a few sentences on them. And yet, the contents are anything but small. This book is “huge” in every sense of the word.
Grief is a crow. A crow who makes his home with a family of two young boys and their father. The mother of the boys and the wife of the father had died recently and unexpectedly and they are each reeling from this shocking and unbearable turn of events. At the point where the father, a Ted Hughes scholar, is imagining his life ahead filled with well meaning visitors and emptiness, crow comes knocking.
“The door bell rang and I braced myself for more kindness. Another lasagne, some books, a cuddle……The bell rang again. I climbed down the carpeted stairs into the chilly hallway and opened the front door….. There was a crack and a whoosh and I was smacked back, winded, onto the doorstep….I opened my eyes and it was still dark and everything was crackling, rustling. Feathers. …….Feathers between my fingers, in my eyes, in my mouth, beneath me a feathery hammock lifting me up a foot above the tiled floor. One shiny jet-black eye as big as my face, blinking slowly in a leathery wrinkled socket, bulging out from a a football-sized testicle. Shhhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhh. And this is what he said: I won’t leave you until you don’t need me any more.”
And so it begins. Crow moves in with the family, to cosset and care for them, to tease, aggravate, and protect them, and, ultimately, to watch over them as they mourn. The story moves seamlessly between the viewpoint of Dad, Crow and Boys. This is a clever device in such a short tome and yet it works beautifully as the reader is exposed to the character and individual voice of each.
I do not know what Max Porters experience of grief or bereavement is but I suspect from the way he captures it so tangibly it must be significant.
“There was very little division between their imaginary and real worlds, and people talked of coping mechanisms and normal childhood and time. Many people said ‘You need time’, when what we needed was washing powder, nit shampoo, football stickers, batteries, bows, arrows, bows, arrows”
“The house became a physical encyclopaedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is he principal difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away….She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, when was simply busy living and then she was gone”
There is little that could match the haunting beauty of this book. It is dazzling and surprising and remarkable and all those other entirely justifiable adjectives which appear on its cover.
I finished it; and such was the weight of the prose, I was aware of a solid ball of grief sitting in my chest. And yet, I wanted to read it all over again. It is so touching and so profound and exposes the rawness of loss and grief to such an exacting degree it demands to be read again. Luxuriate in the melancholy of this book. If you can bear to, let it inhabit you and burrow into you, and then hug those you love and hold them close.
• • •
About The Author
Max Porter works in publishing. He lives in South London with his wife and children. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is his first book.
Review by Angela Vincent Of Changing Pages | The Black Lion is a humble interdisciplinary journal that values your voice. Visit the submissions page to learn more about submitting to the Journal’s sections or to The Wire’s Dream Magazine. | Copyright Policy
Header image and author information from Greywolf Press.