Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I had been curious to read Grief is the Thing with Feathers for a while and so, whilst I know I am behind the times when it comes to this book, I decided to use a recent evening babysitting to read this short and intriguing novel about grief. I definitely found it a moving depiction of grief, although I suspect that I would have a deeper understanding of Porter’s novel if I was familiar with Ted Hughes’ Crow. I actually have read very little of Hughes’ work but I think that this has definitely encouraged me to investigate him more.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers tells the story of a family rocked by the tragic, sudden death of the mother. The reader sees the narrative through the eyes of three different narrators: the father, the two sons, and the imaginary crow which the father uses as a way to process his grief. Throughout the short and moving novel, the family grieve for the mother and try to make sense of their life without her.

I will admit that at first I was a little confused by the inclusion of the imaginary crow and almost found it off-putting, especially with his character serving as a narrator for a number of chapters. However, the character of the crow is an incredibly interesting one. As a manifestation of the father’s grief, it provides a telling insight into the complexities of the grieving process for a parent who is still responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of two small children. The father can’t fully give himself over to the immense grief for his wife because he has to be present and functioning for his sons; the crow serves as a way for him to process the more damaging aspects of his grief (or, at least, that was my interpretation).

The process of grief is an intensely personal one and there is much in Porter’s narrative that is left up to the interpretation of the reader. I suspect that if you gave the book to a group of different readers and asked them what their understanding was of the events of the narrative and the character of the crow, each one would come back with a slightly different view. It speaks to the strength of Porter’s writing that he has been able to create a study of grief that so many different readers could relate to, even if they had not been through that exact situation themselves.

In many ways, this was a difficult book to review, since I feel acutely aware that others may have a completely different understanding of the narrative to me. However, I found it a moving study on the process of grief for a family going through such a tragic event, and I didn’t want to put it down even when I had reached the end. It is a book I would recommend, although I think it is one that I would have to add the disclaimer of it being a little abstract, just so that people aren’t going in with the wrong expectations from it. I enjoyed reading this book and I am glad I finally jumped on the long-gone bandwagon.

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