Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
A first book by Max Porter; the title is from Emily Dickinson as is the epigram in the book’s fly pages in which a well-known quatrain of hers has had each key word lined through and replaced by the word ‘Crow’.
The book delineates the loss of and grief for a mother in a young family of two boys and their father. What it does, and does in a highly unusual and innovative way I feel is describes that (in this case crow-shaped) absence which grief is. And not just any old crow either; the crow that literally moves in here and takes up residency is right from the pages of Ted Hughes’ eponymous volume of poetry.
What is this book? At first it looks like poetry. The formatting, the typesetting is remarkable. Is it prose, a sort of novella? Not really. A play for voices? Probably more like it. The characters are Crow, Dad and Boys and each sees the situation in their own inimitable way. The animal makes wonderful other worldly sounds and delivers his harsh critique. He is a protecting angel and a shrink. The dad is more of a plodder who has to keep them all going. The boys see the situation from the level of the bath tub or the kitchen table. This could go horribly wrong. In fact, I got myself checking biographical details of the author; the book cover alone assures me that Max Porter works in publishing and he lives in South London with his wife and children. So, he is not writing this from experience then; this is fiction. But something else is going on. Dad is also working on a piece about Ted Hughes and so the shadow of him and Sylvia Plath fall across the book.
The writing is sometimes funny, heart-warming, heartbreaking even. In one way, it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. It doesn’t matter; it just is. The last line reads;
Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything.
So, its that kind of book. I liked it.