Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter ★★★

IMG_74981This is a short and unique book, that is composed of a mixture of prose, poetry and an essay on grief. We follow two young boys and their father after their mother’s sudden death, as the three of them struggle to come to terms with their new reality and their grief. When ‘Crow’ arrives at their house – an antagonist but carer and babysitter – he seeks to help the grieving family, and stay until they no longer need him. This book is haunting and beautiful, and unlike anything else I have ever read; it is experimental and striking, and I would recommend anyone to try reading it.

This book is told from three points of views – ‘Dad’, ‘Boys’ and ‘Crow’ – and all were fascinating. Dad is a grieving husband and father, who was utterly in love with his wife and the family life they shared together. We see him struggle to come to terms with his wife’s death, as well as having to support his sons. The snippets from the Boys were my favourite; I found them touching and at times entirely believable. I did, however, feel some disconnect with the characters throughout, and I wanted to get to know them and sympathise with them more. This is merely a matter of taste, however, and I am aware that this specific style was purposeful, and added to the book in other ways. Crow was also an incredibly intriguing character, and one of the most unique characters I have read about in a long time; he is harsh and forceful and darkly humorous, but also has a Mary Poppins style aura about him, which I enjoyed.

This book is filled with intellectual playfulness; the title itself being a play on Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers. The character of Crow was also incredibly interesting and clever, with the whole text pivoting around Ted Hugh’s famous poem – Dad is also a Ted Hughes scholar.While I could appreciate some of these aspects, I could tell there were some subtleties that I was missing – being not greatly familiar with the poem and other references – and I am sure that if I had understood them it would have enhanced the reading experience even more. That being said, it is entirely possible to read this book without having any prior background knowledge.

Not only was this book intellectually brave, it was also aesthetically experimental. Everything about the way the book was crafted was unusual; from the cover, to the typeface, to the medium in which is was written. Not only is there a mixture of poetry and prose, there are also moments describing thoughts, memories and dreams. What’s more, the texts seem to be randomly selected and scattered throughout. This allows the reading experience to remain light as you flit through the difference sections, but at the same time also be extremely heavy, the raw and confused structure reflecting the grief the family were experiencing. I found it to be insightful and affecting, and I really connected with a few beautiful moments.

This was one of the strangest things I have read in a while, and I found it really intriguing. It was dark and emotional, and I thought it was remarkably effective in portraying some of the family’s grief. Overall I enjoyed this new reading experience, although I did not feel like I fully connected with the book. I am keen to see what else Max Porter produces in this future.



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