Book Reviews

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

grief is the thing with feathersOn the cover it is called “A Novel” but it is more of a mixed collection of verse: poems, short stories, fairy tales, novella, playwright and reflections on death, memory and healing.

A man, grief-stricken by his wife’s sudden death and left to raise two boys, answers the door to be blown over by a large *crow. Crow is there to help heal and torment this struggling family. The three characters: Dad, Boys and Crow, alternately narrate this moving and heartbreaking debut work.

After reading Forty Rooms, I expressed that I wanted to try reading more poetry. It doesn’t come naturally to me and I had to turn my analytical mind off, embrace the magical realism,  and just let the lyrical, introspective words flow over me. And spear my heart. Over and over.

“I remember being scared that something must, surely,

go wrong, if we were this happy, her and me, in the

early days, when our love was settling into the shape

of our lives like cake mixture reaching the corners of

the tin as it swells and bakes.”


Literary geeky thoughts and analytical mind back on:

  • It reminded me a bit of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. The narrator is a distraught lover, slowly falling into madness. He will never be free of memories. Does the raven symbolize evil? Prophet? The raven will leave him eventually as Lenore did and “Other friends have flown before— On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
  • “Dad” was a Ted Hughes scholar. Ted Hughes was an English poet who was known (amongst other things) for writing a collection of poems called Crow: from the Life and Songs of the Crow. This collection came out after three years of silence after the death of his wife Sylvia Plath. It was published in 1970 by Faber & Faber. The same publisher who released Grief is the Thing With Feathers originally last year. I thought that little connection was pretty cool.
  • *Crows are symbolic with many things: death, a messenger of foretelling, the 6th sense of humans, clairvoyance, change, ancient wisdom and some believe they carry stories with them.

I think this worked for me because of all of the elements. The beautiful language appealed to my love for words. The emotional content gave it staying power. The magical realism stretched my mind. And the style(s) and symbolism made me work a bit for the reward.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers is a debut written by Max Porter originally published in 2015 by Faber & Faber. Graywolf Press published an American copy on June 7, 2016 and I happily received a copy at BEA without requirement or compensation for this post. It is 128 pages and a copy can be found at your local library.

3 thoughts on “Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

  1. I love the “geeky thoughts” bit; I’m reading this right now and hadn’t yet looked up Ted Hughes! That connection is so cool.

  2. I just finished this….I took a risk knowing I’m not generally a poetry fan, but unfortunately I’m in the minority on this one. There were some absolutely gorgeous quotes from Dad about grief, his wife, etc, but I just couldn’t make heads or tails of the crow sections. Glad I gave it a shot, though!

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