Book Review: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

‘You sound like a fridge magnet…’

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I know next to nothing about Ted Hughes. Or Ted Heath. He isn’t relevant though…

Ted Hughes was poet laureate. He was married to Sylvia Plath at the time of her suicide. That’s about the extent of my knowledge. This didn’t stop me from enjoying Grief Is The Thing With Feathers immensely, however.

I should explain. Author Max Porter’s first novel looks at grief and loss using the narrative device of a crow, a bird which is the subject of one of Hughes’ book of poems. The anti hero protagonist at the centre of the story is a Hughes obsessive who struggles to cope with the sudden death of his wife and the impact it has on his family.

The story is told from the point of view of the newly widowed man, his two sons and the crow itself. The crow is vindictive, a jester and unstable and the extracts in which it features read as though they were written by a malfunctioning Lewis Carroll robot. The style ranges from free form poetry, to first person narrative to gibberish and at a skinny 114 pages this versatility makes for a compelling and refreshing read.

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is heartbreaking, weird and darkly humorous. The literary references and contrasting styles hide an astonishingly accurate portrayal of grief and loss. A book that is deeply affecting without being sad, surprisingly touching without being mawkish and completely unique. Ted Hughes would be proud. I’m not sure if Ted Heath would like it though.

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