Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter


I’d heard great things about Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, the first book by Max Porter so I was very much looking forward to reading it. At 114 pages in length it is a relatively short novel yet it contains so much within its pages, resulting in a sad, yet beautiful portrayal of grief.

‘I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more.’

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers tells the story of a father and his two young sons following the sudden loss of their mother.  As they try to come to terms with the loss of their loved one they are visited by a crow, who threatens to stay with them until they no longer need him anymore. Drawn to this grieving family, Crow acts as their healer, guiding them forward to a point where they can, to some extent, carry on.

‘We will fill this house with toys and books and wail like playgroup left-behinds.’

I really liked the structure of this book. It is in parts a novella, in others a fable. To me it felt almost like a series of poems and short stories exploring grief. It is an unusual style but it works perfectly here to represent the protagonists’ fragmented thoughts and memories. The narrative alternates between the Dad, the boys and the crow as slowly, they begin to heal. It raises lots of interesting points about how we deal with grief and how we should deal with the loss of a loved one. It is a sad, beautifully told story, but despite the darkness within it there are moments of humour.

‘I will stop finding her hairs.

I will stop hearing her breathing.’

The split narrative brings three, very distinct voices to the story. The Crow is an interesting, almost mythical character who has many sides to him. He is a healer, a carer, a friend and an antagonist. I was interested to hear that Crow was inspired by Ted Hughes’ crow, with the father in the story being a Ted Hughes scholar. In addition to the fascinating, disjointed voice of Crow there are the voices of the family that are struggling to adjust to life without their mother. For me, the sections narrated by the Dad are the most heartbreaking. He recounts those simple things in life you take for granted, and the little things that get left behind, the memories. It is heartbreaking to see him move through different stages of grief, but finding himself lost. The voice of the two boys is combined into one and it is never clear which son is which throughout. Instead, their voice is that of siblings as they try to deal with something beyond a child’s comprehension. They are angry and confused, fighting with each other and their Dad. As the novel progresses we get to see them all as they move forwards, face new challenges and begin to contemplate a world without her.

‘…any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.’

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a book that can be read in one sitting that will stay with you long after you have finished it. It is a remarkable, moving portrayal of love and loss and moving forward.

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