Review: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter


Title: Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Author: Max Porter

Purchase: Available in the UK and the US.

Overall rating: 5/5

Great for: Fans of dark and atmospheric speculative fiction, and those with a love of the macabre.

Themes: Literary fiction, magical realism, contemporary, fantasy, speculative fiction, gothic fiction.


Review: Have you ever read something and thought of what an utter privilege it is that this book came into your life? I have. About this book.

The synopsis of this sounds pretty simple – two boys and their father are grieving for their recently deceased mother and wife. That combined with the short length could fool you into thinking this is a straightforward and austere tale. But beware! Don’t be fooled by these deceptions. This is an abstruse and intricate story dealing with the emotional cycle of grief, and the hole it places in the lives of those left behind in the wake of death.

Set in short and often disjointed segments, this chronicles the years that follow the loss of a loved one from the perspectives of children, a spouse and the crow that visits them to ‘aid’ the family in their grief. What initially appears as a melancholy yet straight-forward tale, soon turns to the fantastic.

The symbolism of the crow is taken straight from the famed works of Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe. It may appear perverse to amalgamate this already renowned fictional trope into something modern, but Porter skillfully weaves reality and fantasy together to provide the perfect home for this hybrid creature. The crow, in the book, becomes the metaphor for grief. It represents mourning and the coping mechanisms the individual deploys. Crow can perform the roles of nurturer and fraudster in quick succession, as needed:

“Crow is a trickster, he is ancient and post-modern, illustrator, editor, vandal…”

The different first-person perspectives chronicle the divergent approaches to dealing with death and combine to give a raw and gritty account of life lived with loss. This, despite the lyrical beauty of the writing, is often unapologetically course and crude in its depictions:

“Many people said, ‘what you need is time’, when what we needed was washing powder, nit shampoo, football stickers, batteries, bows, arrows, bows arrows.”

The tragicomic prose is, to sum it up in one word, unusual. And the crow’s perspective is the most unusual of them all. And through these unusual, poetic soliloquies comes the forward movement of time and, with it, the ultimate dismissal of the crow that haunts them. This sadness that permeates the text is alleviated in the last portion and hope is allowed sovereignty. As all those who have lost someone will know, “grief is a long-term project.” But it provides the reader with a further insight and understanding of the nature of grief that the text does not finish on the crow reigning supreme, the family unit does.

  1. David Green says

    This review is so beautifully written and moving! Dannii’s reviews of novels are so amazing to read, I sincerely hope to be reading a novel written by her one day!

  2. Leoni says

    Good write up! Sounds like something I could benefit from reading

  3. Mark says

    Nice Review, will consider buying this book as a gift – Thank you very much.
    Mark x

  4. Julie says

    Drawn by the photo but now want to read the book.

  5. Rachel Jordan says

    Beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring review, definately whets the appetite for a journey through this book .

  6. Georgia says

    An evocative review of what is clearly a very poignant book, I will be looking it up on Kindle.

  7. J Lyons says

    Great review, makes me want to read the book. The photo is also a nice touch.

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