Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Like the crow of Porter’s novel, I am also often drawn to the pain of my fellow man and so I couldn’t resist plucking this from Die’s outstretched hands.


I will not cry on the tube.
I will not cry on the tube.
I will try to not cry on the tube.
I will not cry often on the tube.

I have cried on the tube.

Max Porter’s tender, true-to-life first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, made me the man in the verse above. Right from the beginning I knew this wasn’t even close to anything on my shelf. The story begins with feathers on the pillow of the Boys and slowly unfurls around them and their Dad in the wake of Mum’s death.

We guessed
and understood that this was a new life
and Dad was a different type of Dad now
and we were different boys, we were brave
new boys without a Mum.

Wiping the tears from one’s eyes surreptitiously while trying to hold a book open and keep hold of the handrail on the Northern Line was incredibly challenging. Dad, though, didn’t need to hide his tears as people turned up on his doorstep with useless advice and redundant lasagnas. Porter shrewdly observes that this wasn’t what they needed with the darkly humorous line “The doorbell rang and I braced myself for more kindness. Another lasagne, some books, a cuddle…”. But Dad doesn’t get this and so has to change to be a different type of dad. Dad’s change attracted Crow. A manifestation of Ted Hughes’s crow, who comes into their lives to help. Or to “eat [their] sorrow”.

Taking a crow, Nature’s pecker of death and making him Crow, a sharp beak and tongue to whittle away the pain and heartache of losing a spouse, is frankly stunning. Porter manages to blend the crow of Hughes into the Crow of Dad with painful ease almost as though the former had “nailed them together”. Dad’s crow being a sentimental support in the wake of death and Hughes’s obsessed with life, death and love.  So Crow sets about pecking at Dad and pecking at us until we are raw emotion (and crying on the tube). And yet, it’s not always sad. Porter has been truthful in his quips on the dark humour of death, the “unignorable” observations of the ridiculousness of the bereft.

Despite the form of the novel wandering from prose to poetry, the narrative continues from one page to the next. I must admit that I was amazed by Porter’s adroit weaving of the story into verse. Although, the last few months have seen quite a few remarkable takes on the novel form (see our reviews on Hystopia and Multiple Choice), so I needn’t have been too shocked about loving this book also. It’s no surprise that the Man Booker this year went for challenges on the novel form I guess.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is among the most emotional, touching, yet remarkably humorous books you could read this month. The poetry needn’t put you off either. Porter’s verse is less daunting than most as most often his sentences are rich in context and light on abstract. It’s not your Leaving Cert or A-Level.I give it 5/5 stars and 2/2 raw eyes.

TL;DR: Dad cried, Boys cried, I cried. Crow laughed, Dad laughed, Boys laughed, I laughed. 5/5.


4 thoughts on “Grief is the Thing with Feathers

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