Sunday, 4 September 2016

'Grief is the Thing With Feathers' by Max Porter

This is a book first published last year, 2015.  It was the winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize. It was also shortlisted for both the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. Somehow it escaped my attention. Gods know how.

Having purchased the book in town I started reading it on the bus, It was four thirty.


When I arrived in Rayleigh, a slight detour to post job applications for Squid through local business letterboxes, it was raining - large heavy spots that soaked me to the skin. It was the first rain in weeks ending what has been a magnificent summer. It was five forty.

I popped into the local newsagent to browse the magazines. A lot of stuff that took my interest but not enough to buy anything. My shirt was clinging to me. My jeans hugged my legs like a passionate poodle. The next bus home was due at six forty-five. Going against my tight-fisted mindset. I caught a cab. It was six-0- five.

I cooked dinner (family off holidaying in France), read more of the book and then went upstairs book glued to my nose to run a bath. It was seven.

I lay in the bath until I had turned the last page. It was eight thirty.

What an incredible read. Unlike anything I have ever read before. A law unto itself.  Prose poetry burnished with an emotion raw and unflinching. Occasionally harrowing, utterly haunting, its experimental power a force of joy, sadness, and sublime storytelling.

A mother dies leaving her husband not merely heartbroken but broken; their children grief-stricken -  a household in crisis, a family falling apart. Then a crow arrives, big black, antagonistic, defensive - a babysitter and foil. 

The pain of loss is ably crafted into the tale but is prevented from degenerating into a mawkish sense of self-indulgence by a rich vein of humour. Humour as black as a crow's plumage/

Books like this are as rare as, well, crow's teeth. There is even a passage about Ted Hughes which will  delight readers who spot the reference.

"The father in the book is preoccupied with Crow to such an extent that it comes alive, and whether that is imaginary or real, the generative outcomes are the same. The Crow is not Hughes’ Crow, he is Dad’s, the Boys’, my own, any reader’s, and the bird itself, with all the literary, mythological, ornithological baggage. He is the literary subject once removed. I considered using something else. At one stage it was Telemachus. But really Crow kept on hopping about in my periphery and the complexities of Hughes and grief were too much to resist." 















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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

1 comment:

Vanessa V Kilmer said...

"passionate poodle" :)

Wonderful review. I must find this book.