Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

This has been on my radar since I found and fell in love with Lanny, Porter’s second book. And man, this one has undone me. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read, a verse narrative exploring the aftermath of loss, and the route grief takes when your bereavement counsellor is a large, rude, trickster crow. It gives voices to Dad and his two sons, left together when their mother/wife dies, and Crow himself is as raucous as you’d want, tinged with the brilliantly unexpected tone of the professional carer.

Dad is an academic, writing on Ted Hughes – the latter’s Crow, written after the death of Sylvia Plath, feeds into the narrative, but Porter’s Crow is a brilliant construction in its own right, dispensing tough love and headlocks as only a giant crow can. Appropriately, given the link with Hughes, this crow remains staunchly corvid in focus and appetite.

‘… Our crow picked and nibbled at Lilt cans and salted Durex and B&H … Blackberry, redcurrant, loganberry, sloe. Damson, plum-pear, crab-apple, bruises. Clots, phlegm, tumours and quince.’

The sense of the grotesque is reminiscent of David Almond’s Skellig – sometimes the saviours of a family are a bit unsavoury themselves. But there’s never any doubt that Crow’s purpose will be left unachieved, and slowly we see the boys and their father begin to mend. The moment where Crow banishes the demon from the door is simply marvellous in its chilling ferocity:

‘Crow went out, smiled, sniffed the air, nodded good evening and back-kicked the door shut behind him. Then Crow demonstrated to the demon what happens when a crow repels an intruder to the nest, if there are babies in that nest’.

This is a study in a family coming to terms with a gaping hole cut into their existence, and it is incredibly moving. It is also unexpectedly funny, faced as we are with a large forceful Crow who has a job to do, even if that means standing in the bathroom making loud ‘crow-like’ utterances, which seem to share a good deal with rhyming slang and cursing:

(I do this, perform some unbound crow stuff, for him. I think he thinks he’s a little bit Stonehenge shamanic, hearing the bird spirit. Fine by me, whatever gets him through.)

I think this is where magical realism is at its most perfect and yet, as I say, there’s nothing quite like this, and to lump it in with this genre is not quite right. I can’t do it justice here – it is just amazing and unique.

One thought on “Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

  1. Pingback: The Death of Francis Bacon – Max Porter | Books and Wine Gums

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