Grief is the Thing with Feathers had been on my to-read list for a shamefully long time until about a week ago, when I sat down one afternoon and read it from cover to cover in complete awe. It made me cry, it made me smile. I didn’t want it to end. It is a perfectly formed combination of viewpoints, narratives, fables, conversations. The language is in turns poetic, rational, witty, bluntly tragic. It is, quite simply, stunning.
Two boys are left reeling after the sudden death of their mother. Their father is an academic who was in the middle of writing a book about Ted Hughes’ poetry collection Crow when she died, and the character of Crow visits the three of them. He is an embodiment of grief, but he is also there to see them through their grief.
Motherless children are pure crow. For a sentimental bird it is ripe, rich and delicious to raid such a nest.
Crow is an ever-shifting character, unpredictable and funny, but his presence creates some of the most heart-wrenching moments in the book.
It is clear that Max Porter knows Ted Hughes’ Crow inside out and upside down, and I have no doubt that the character of Crow in Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a faithful interpretation – even enhancement – of the original. The huge amount of skill that has clearly gone into this book is all the more impressive because it does not feel forced. The book is equally rewarding for those who know nothing of Ted Hughes’ work as I suspect it would be for a Hughes scholar.
For me, it has opened a door into an area of literature that I find intimidating – poetry. I’ve been wanting to ‘get into’ poetry for a little while now, but despite my best efforts have not had any sort of lightbulb moment with the poetry books I’ve picked up so far. Maybe I’ve made the wrong choices, or maybe I need to work at it a little more – either way, I now see a route in. Having been provided by Max Porter with such a clear sense of Crow’s character, reading Ted Hughes’ Crow (which I’d given a go once before) has suddenly felt a lot more accessible. We’ll see how it goes!
I’m looking forward to re-reading Grief is the Thing with Feathers in the light of the poetry collection; in the meantime, it has gone straight onto my favourites list. It really is an incredible book that deserves every inch of the praise it has received.
The house becomes a physical encyclopedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is the principal difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away. Ill people, in their last day on Earth, do not leave notes stuck to bottles of red wine saying ‘OH NO YOU DON’T COCK-CHEEK’. She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.