Magical, remarkable, one-of-a-kind, heartbreaking and brilliant have all been used to describe Max Porter’s astounding debut novella Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. This astonishing and bizarre (in the best sense of the word), book is a poignant, life-affirming meditation on grief and healing.
When I first read the synopsis of Grief, I questioned whether I really wanted to read a novel about a subject that, while relevant to all humans, I do not normally think of as uplifting. Add to that the fact that a life-size crow is the protagonist that will relieve the family’s grief. I was skeptical to say the least. This short book is however a delight. Once I reminded myself that I was dealing with fiction and suspended disbelief, I was good to go and became curious as to how the author was going to pull it off.
A mélange of fairy tale, fable and dream, Grief presents a dad devastated by the loss of his wife who is struggling to take care of his boys and himself all while finishing his book on the poetry of Ted Hughes. Crow, (a man-size black bird), appears on their doorstep one day and inserts himself as a wild but tender shepherd to the wounded family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. Over the coming months Crow does just that and the family begins to heal. Crow represents hope, and despite our current state of affairs, Grief shows us that magic and imagination still exist and are ever so relevant.
I thoroughly enjoyed this concise, unusual book. But don’t just take my word on it. Grief is Winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, finalist for the Goldsmiths Prize and has Rights sold in thirteen countries. Porter’s most recent book, Lanny: A Novel, longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, is also not to be missed.