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Grief is the Thing with Feathers

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In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow - antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

In this extraordinary debut - part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter's compassion and bravura style combine to dazzling effect. Full of unexpected humour and profound emotional truth, Grief is the Thing with Feathers marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent.

114 pages, Hardcover

First published September 17, 2015

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About the author

Max Porter

31 books1,382 followers
Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories. Complicité and Wayward’s production of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy opened in Dublin in March 2018. Max lives in Bath with his family.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,055 reviews
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
December 14, 2018
If you're looking for a book about grief that will make you sad but also not sad and will have beautiful lines and also some confusing passages but overall you'll leave it feeling like it was definitely worth your time because your soul feels a little bit different go on and pick this one up.

Profile Image for Ilse.
458 reviews2,965 followers
December 9, 2016
You Cannot Prevent the Birds of Sorrow from Flying over Your Head, but You Can Prevent Them from Building a Nest in Your Hair
– Chinese Proverb


I picked this up because the title struck me like a poem in itself, sounding like an titillating modulation on that wonderful poem Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson . A glance on the explicit cover art however leaves no room for dulcet misunderstanding: the ‘thing with feathers’ isn’t a tender still-downy birdie, but a lugubrious black bird – It is Ted Hughes’s sinister Crow, resuscitated in this fable-like tale about coping with the sudden death of a spouse and mother.


Do we find books or do books find us?
While the father tries to continue working after the death of his wife, writing a book about Ted Hughes ‘s Crow, ‘Crow on the Couch, a wild analysis’, Crow enters, promising (or threatening?) to stay as long as the father and the 2 young boys need him. The Crow character, associated with numerous myths about death and dying, like the raven symbolizing death itself in some cultures, curiously brings life instead of death, epitomizing grief and sadness as an incontrovertible part of life. He claims to be a sentimental bird, thriving on sorrow, eating it. As grief is raw, dirty, scary and exhausting – certainly rather a crow than a sweet little bird of hope - the image of the omnipresent Crow embodying grief is excellent and powerful, but it is Hughes’s creature after all, not Porter’s. To determine whether both crowish characters are idiosyncratic or not, the original Crow poetry should be read, which I didn’t. Porter’s winged friend rings true to its archetypical crowish nature: vibrant, intelligent, playful, a mythical trickster.

Porter in general escapes wallowing in sentimentality, showing the raw and messy face of grief, observing astutely the pulverised lives of a family in mourning, a family who does not simply ‘move on’ but anyway has no choice then to live on, floundering through life’s trivialities of eating, cleaning, banking, working. Inevitably, depending on one’s own life experiences with loss and its connected sensibilities, the reader can expect some fragments to tear on a reader’s heartstrings when facing the physical and emotional void left by the beloved:
She won’t ever use (make-up, turmeric, hairbrush, thesaurus). She won’t ever finish (Patricia Highsmith novel, peanut butter, lip balm).
There were flashes of insight and recognition. The silent witnesses of what once was a life, flying shrapnels in the house. The piercing pain a little note can provoke. The gentle instigation of good friends to pick up life again. The sudden single-parenting issues. “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.” True. But also a truism.

Porter piqued my curiosity about Hughes’s original Crow poetry, and about some of the other British poets featuring in his debut novel probably worth exploring. His own creation fell flat in getting me into the hearts and minds of the grieving family, apart from a few moving passages, like the moment the father frees her ashes:
Up they went, the sense of a cloud, the failure of clouds, scientifically quick and visually hopeless, a murder of little burnt birds flecked against the grey sky, the grey sea, the white sun, and gone.
Alternatingly listening to the voices of the father, the boys and Crow, the irking voice of Crow irritated me at first. Having read the novella a second time now, the wordplay and onomatopoeia keep striking me as rather childish and hollow – dissonant cawing, futile twaddle. In the Dutch translation I read, the ostensible poetry in his lines resembles what we call in Dutch ‘karamellenverzen’(toffee verses). Namedropping poets or writing about poetry does not turn a tale into a prose poem in itself.

Perhaps aspiring to depict how grief loses its bleak sharpness through the passing of time, making place for a milder cherishing of precious memories without ever entirely vanishing or healing, Porter’s fable premise and magic realism might not fully convey authenticity, but should be honoured as an honest attempt to word the ineffable.


On a si peur des souvenirs
les oublier c’est un peu mourir.

(Jo Lemaire, La mémoire en exil)
Profile Image for Trish.
1,948 reviews3,405 followers
October 27, 2015
Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.

This is a book about two boys and their father dealing with their mother's death.
It's a very unusual book.
Unusual because their "grief counsellor" is a crow. Yes, a black bird.
Unusual because only at the end do we truly know what happened to the mother.
Unusual because, in truth, it doesn't matter HOW the mother died, but what happens to those left behind.
Unusual for its language which is cryptic at times - especially when Crow first arrives (I had to read that one chapter three times and still only had a vague idea what the author was trying to say) and very simple but heavy at others.

The story is being told in chapters of "Crow", "Dad" and "Boys" and shows how each party is feeling about and dealing with the situation. And it doesn't sugarcoat anything. Gradually, a more complete picture emerges and a progression can be seen.
In between, there is lots of wonderful prose. Sometimes even funny (especially the chapter about Gran) passages.

To me, the important message is the quote at the beginning of this review. And the fact that this family is not "functional", as society would call it, after the mother has died. They do everything their own way and that's OK because everyone griefs differently and the world needs to finally accept and respect that!
Also, I loved the concept of Crow staying with them until they no longer need it (a bit like Nanny McFee, but the true origin story of Crow is so lovely).
It's a small book but full of wonderfully resounding lines that strike a deep cord with the reader and stay with you for a long time. Inconspicuous yet enormously powerful.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews660 followers
December 12, 2016
I read in another review 'Do we find books or do they find us?' I think it happens both ways. And this book found me. Perhaps a bit too personal here....but a recent family tragedy was just devastating to me. I tried to read to keep my mind occupied, but nothing could grab my attention. I felt horrible like I was just moving on so quickly trying to do something trivial such as read books. But I knew I had to continue on. To be honest, I really do not know how this book ended up in my hands. It was like...it was there at my library for me. Perhaps I ordered it at some point but it's nothing that I would normally read. I know this book found me.

The story is told from three points of view - the dad, the boys (two young boys told as one story), and the crow after the wife/mother of the family suddenly and unexpectedly passes. The dad and the boys grieve and in different ways. The crow is there to help (sorta) with their grief. The crow feeds on grief and finds humans interesting when in grief. The crow is there for therapy and will stay until he is no longer needed. See the father is a big fan of Ted Hughes, the poet, and I do think his work is heavily influenced in this book. Not reading Hughes, I feel that perhaps I did miss some references probably, but it in no way diminished my read of this book. Hughes wrote a poetry book called Crow and indicates 'Crow is a figure of myth, a hungry, hardscrabble chaos of feathers & dark dreams -- sometimes a trickster, sometimes a victim, sometimes a guide, sometimes a Prometheus of sorts.'

It feels like a short story, feels like poetry, feels like rambling of people suffering grief and not making sense, and then the crow...at times, DOESN'T make any sense. Talking in rhyming verse but sometimes with sly wit. It follows the dad and boys through their grief until they no longer need crow. I was half way through the book when I went back and started it again. I read it slowly. It made me sad, it made me cry, it made me think, it made me want to read Hughes. Did it help with grief? It helped me to know it's OK, and it might take time, perhaps days, months, or years.....but it helped me to remember.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
November 1, 2019
When I first saw this book I kept thinking about how familiar the title sounded, and then I remembered the Emily Dickens poem “Hope is a Thing With Feathers “ is what rang a bell here - hope not grief. While this novella is about the depths of grief, I couldn’t help but have hope for these characters. There’s no question about it . This is an odd story. The narrative alternates between the Crow and the Dad and the two Boys who are grieving the untimely death of a wife and mother. Crow comes into their lives as the grief itself takes over their daily lives, as they struggle to find what their new lives are going to be without the woman they loved. You could call it a fable and the Crow perhaps, the metaphor for the grief engulfing them. The Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar and I didn’t know much about Ted Hughes, other than he was a poet married to poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. I discovered that he wrote a book of poetry entitled, “Crow”, so no doubt, there is meaning behind this, but I don’t know enough about the collection or Ted Hughes to describe that connection. I’ll leave that to others who do.

So I just looked at this on a less intellectual level, a more emotional one that I could understand and feel. Grief is something that anyone who has lost someone knows and the depiction of it here is just heartbreaking reflecting how lost the father and these two young boys are. I was heartbroken for them. This is a short book which I read in one sitting and it left me knowing what I already knew, that while Crow left, grief can remain, but there can be hope for moving forward . A different kind of story which I found worth reading.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
860 reviews5,925 followers
January 23, 2023
But I care, deeply. I find humans dull except in grief.

Grief is a natural response to loss, yet it is something we struggle with giving space to and processing as a society. This is particularly prevalent in Western societies—often criticized as being death-denying cultures—where we push death aside, relegating it to hospitals and hospice care, finding corpses to be grotesque, and correlating death with failure. This makes grief all the more tricky to navigate, when mourning seems to have a quick expiration period before returning to the office and “normal” life is expected despite the old “normal” being a concept forever shattered. Perhaps we all could use a little help, and in Max Porter’s hybrid novella, Grief is a Thing With Feathers, we have Crow who comes to a newly motherless nest to aid in the grief process. Written in poetic form and chock-full of references to poet Ted Hughes’s Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow, the story is told rotating between Crow and the perspectives of family members simply named Dad and the Boys. While occasionally is feels like in avoidance of being too much the novella comes across as not enough, Grief is a Thing With Feathers dives into grief and examines how the non-linear process affects a loving family coping with the horrible loss of a beloved mother and wife.

Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar.

The poetic quality of the novella breaks down barriers to move freely between inner thoughts and impressions and outward conversations in a swirling cavalcade of perspectives. The father, Dad, is a Ted Hughes scholar working on a book about the poet when his wife is tragically taken from them and sends him into a spiral of emotions. ‘She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.’ While he copes, his young sons are also grief-stricken and feel their father slipping away into his own recovery zone. Enter Crow. Crow is a mythological creature ‘ who is stronger than death,’ as Hughes had written in his crow poetry, whos appearance is ‘suggesting constant readiness for violence with / his posture,’ and who only finds humans interesting during their stages of grief. He is here to guide them through. It is a moving novel, one that shakes you up and makes you consider grief, and has even been adapted to the stage.
Cillian Murphy in the stage adaptation of the novel.

This book is a really moving meditation of grief. What is grief, the man asks, to which Crow responds ‘It is everything. It is the fabric of selfhood, and beautifully chaotic. It shares mathematical characteristics with many natural forms.’ We see Dad wrestle with it, we see The Boys wrestle with it, we see Crow encourage and jibe them during it all. There are gorgeous passages in this novel that capture the feelings of longing and grief, something Max Porter is familiar with as a grief counselor and, as he said in conversation with The Guardian, the journey of The Boys is based on his own passage through grief when his father passed when Max was young.
I missed her so much that I wanted to build a
hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I
wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde
Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could
comprehend how much I miss her. How physical
my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden
prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine
thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds
and more. The whole city is my missing her.

To all this, Crow simply responds ‘you sound like a fridge magnet,’ never allowing anyone to get too bogged down in their grief and taking themselves overly seriously. But this novel is a reminder that grief is never a simple task. ‘You were done being hopeless’ says late in the novel when Dad is beginning to repair his life, ‘grieving is something you’re still doing.’ Grief isn’t linear, it is raw and messy.
Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

It is a good reminder that grief is something we carry with us, live with, and that it isn’t shameful to have these emotions long term and honor the memory of what we have lost.

We miss our Mum, we love our Dad, we
wave at crows.
It’s not that weird.

Much of the novella is inspired by the work of Ted Hughes, which also figures into the book along with poems by Emily Dickinson (the title itself being a play on her poem Hope is the Thing With Feathers). The free verse mimics the form of Hughe’s poetry, though it does often read more like prose with line breaks at convenient length rather than ‘being a poem’ so to speak. Which is fine, as this is more of a hybrid format than anything and really adds to the effect of the book. Though having discussed the prose with some friends on here I will concede it is more spectacle than substance. Hughes comes into play several times, such as the Dad having his first romantic fling since the death of his wife with a Sylvia Plath scholar, and largely draws on his work Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow which dealt with his grief following Plath’s death. Here’s an example:

Crow Blacker Than Ever

When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven,
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing heaven and earth together-

So man cried, but with God’s voice.
And God bled, but with man’s blood.

Then heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank-
A horror beyond redemption.
The agony did not diminish.
Man could not be man nor God God.

The agony


Crying: “This is my Creation,”

Flying the black flag of himself.

Hughes is a poet surrounded by grief and made it a frequent topic of his poetry, though it should be noted he was fairly problematic and abusive, and this book gives him a lot of space in an uncritical way. Hughes had many affairs and abused Plath—her diaries show this contributed to her suicide—and his later partner, Assia Guttmam (who is easily the best translator for Yehuda Amichai, including my favorite version of my favorite poem of his that is also just a favorite poem in general: A Pity We Were Such a Good Invention) would also commit suicide and murder her and Hughes’ child after learning of his many affairs. Though if we are being critical, it is only fair to mention Plath’s work has been criticized for her use of racist metaphors and tropes as well as appropriating Jewish narratives. So Hughes is a person surrounded by grief but also was the reason for a lot of grief, which makes sense to have him be an inspiration for this work but the loving, caring relationship between Dad and Mum here was not the case in his life. Separating artist from art is something everyone has their own comfort level with, so take all this as you will.

Perhaps if Crow taught him anything it was a constant balancing. For want of a less dirty word: faith.

There are some very lovely moments in this book, and several members of my bookclub mentioned this helped them understand and process grief in their own lives. I was particularly moved by the notion that ghosts don’t haunt the present but return to the warm memories of their past to linger. Grief is the Thing With Feathers takes wing and brings the reader through emotionally fraught subject matter to remind us, as the epigraph by Dickinson reads ‘that Love is all there is; / Is all we know of Love.’ It is occasionally more bold expressions than actual depth, but I enjoyed the way it encourages embracing emotion and discussing grief in a way that young children would process it. A quick punch of a novel that will leave a sting.



and their voice was the life and song of their mother
Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything.

Profile Image for Cecily.
1,119 reviews3,982 followers
December 23, 2022
Rewritten: I didn’t know how to review this strange, clever, beautiful, amusing, and tragic book. Five days after finishing it, I was still unsure what I felt about it, other than that it didn’t move as much as I wanted it to, and as I felt it should. I posted a review anyway (scroll down).

The book is poetic and inspired by poems, and my review was not. It has raw emotions and empathy (but never sentimentality or false hope) that my review lacked. My words reflected the distance and disconnection that I inexplicably felt from the text. It deserved better.

A few days later, a GR friend who read my review, Sahil, sent me a link to a song that was, for me, the key. It certainly moved me more than the book. The situation is very similar, and there's even a crow. Phil Elverum lost his wife to aggressive cancer when their only child was just 18 months old. He recorded the album A Crow Looked at Me a few months later, in her room, using her instruments. It's more spoken word than song, and it describes the immediate aftermath, from the agonising to trivial, with a rawness that is profound and rare. You can listen to the album, HERE, with the lyrics overlaid on photos of the Washington state coastline, where he and his daughter live. The first track is "Real Death" and the last is "Crow". You can read the lyrics here.

Elverum said of it:
"Death Is Real could be the name of this album. These cold mechanics of sickness and loss are real and inescapable, and can bring an alienating, detached sharpness. But it is not the thing I want to remember. A crow did look at me. There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why."

Geneviève died shortly before this book was published. Elverum is writing about his own experience, but my engagement with his words is how this book deserves to be experienced.

Original review of the book

Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold.
A woman has died suddenly. In lots of short sections, Dad, The Boys, and Crow describe the fallout: the raw pain, confusion, memories, black humour, and quotidian coping strategies. It’s about loss, poetry, family, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve read.

The narrators

Dad juggles his own grief and that of his small boys, while busy with “organisational fakery”, drinking too much, and trying to write a book about Ted Hughes’ crow poems. The Boys, unnamed, speak as one, “I am either brother”. They fight and act up. But they love their dad and know he suffers too.
Some of the time we tell the truth. It’s our way of being nice to Dad.

Crow, whether real, imagined, or magical, appears, saying “I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more”. Words we’d love to hear in such circumstances, but from a crow? The crow family (which includes rooks and ravens) carries millennia of mythic symbolism from the grim (an omen of loss, bad luck, and war), through the unsettling (prophetic), to the fun (clever, trickster, riddler, and wise-cracker). This crow is all of those, like the one in Ted Hughes' poems, of which Dad observes the dichotomy “between Crow’s natural self and his civilised self between the scavenger and the philosopher”.

Overwhelmed by the waves of grief, the boys are buoys (Brits pronounce the two words the same way).
Because of us... he couldn't want to die.”

Dad and Crow seem to be writing in the present, whereas the boys’ understanding exceeds their age, and towards the end, they tell something of their adult lives.

Hope and grief: which poet and poems?

The title is an inversion of a famous poem by Emily Dickinson, Hope is the Thing with Feathers. The title page inverts a different Dickinson poem, That Love is All There Is, including replacing “love” with “crow”. And yet the story within is infused with Ted Hughes’ life and works. In addition, Max Porter has written some sections almost as poetry.

Replacing Dickinson's famous “hope” with “grief” pushes a consideration of the overlap or contradiction. Grief is forever woven into memory, but there is hope in our growing strength to carry it. Ultimately, I prefer to look forward with hope, rather than backward to grief (though it still sometimes glints in the light, catching me unawares). I prefer the feathers to belong to something more like a phoenix than a crow, as in this interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poem:

Image: First two cells of Julian Peters’ depiction of Dickinson’s poem (Source)

Sudden bereavement

"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."

Every bereavement is unique. Sudden bereavement is very different from a death after a long, painful illness. Not harder or easier, but fundamentally different. I learnt via a 10:30pm phone call that my apparently healthy father had died, but I know that my elderly mother is more likely to slip away very slowly (though hopefully not any time soon).

Children’s grief

Small children don’t always respond to death in the way adults expect - or want (not that anyone should tell anyone else how to grieve).

When my kid was seven, three children in their class of twenty suddenly lost a parent or sibling, plus a friend at another school. All in the space of a year. Children in those families were, of course, devastated. But a lot of the time, they seemed almost and unsettlingly unaffected, unlike the surviving adults in their families. That’s all portrayed here: the boys misbehave (“We do these things to miss her, to keep wanting her.”), sometimes lie about how their mother died (and think she’d approve), and they shock a babysitter who asks, “How can you laugh about it, it’s so sad?”. But that’s what young children often do to cope.

Most startlingly, the boys in this book conclude that before the self-consciousness of puberty is, “on reflection, the best possible time to lose a mum”.

Image: Crow (detail) by Helen Masacz (Source)

The real crow

Ted Hughes was suddenly the sole parent of two small children when Sylvia Plath died by suicide. Three years later, he published Crow.

I read this book with only a little knowledge of Hughes’ life and works. I may have read some of his crow poems, but I hadn’t registered or remembered their significance. As I read, I assumed that was an impediment, and maybe it was, though Kaye, in a comment below, felt that reading Crow didn’t help much.

Crow quotes

• “We can do things other characters can't, like eat sorrow, un-birth secrets and have theatrical battles with language and God. I was friend, excuse, deus ex machina, joke, symptom, figment, spectre, crutch, toy, phantom, gag, analyst and babysitter.”

• “I put my claw on his eyeball and weighed up gouging it out for fun or mercy.”

• “I find humans dull except in grief.”

• “There is a beautiful lazy swagger to tired little men, they roll and flump and crash down in the interlude before beginning to scavenge for food or entertainment… And sugar!... If you haven’t observed human children after serious quantities of sugar, you must. It raises and deranges them, hilariously, for an hour or so, and then they slump.”

Dad quotes

• “There was very little division between their imaginary and real worlds… There was very little division between my imaginary and real worlds.”

• “Their voice was the life and song of their mother. Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything.”

What Porter did next

He wrote Lanny, which is also, but differently, experimental and mythic, but even better. See my review HERE.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
490 reviews596 followers
September 28, 2016
This is no ordinary book. It's part short story, part myth, part poetry, partly narrated by a massive metafictional crow. It's unlike anything I've ever read and it's absolutely wonderful.

We are plunged into the aftermath of a woman's tragic death. Her husband (a Ted Hughes scholar) and two young sons struggle to cope with the devastating loss. The father turns into a "machine-like architect of routines for small children with no Mum." Into their house comes Crow, a figure from the poetry of Hughes, who becomes a kind of counsellor to guide the family towards recovery. He finds "every surface dead Mum, every crayon, tractor, coat, welly, covered in a film of grief." But he also promises, "I won't leave until you don't need me anymore."

The story is told from three points of view - Boys, Dad and Crow. Crow speaks in a kind of onomatopoeic verse which can be a bit tricky to decipher at times. But he is clear on the fact that this situation is what he lives for, admitting that he finds humans dull except in grief. The boys manage the adjustment to a world without their mother much easier than their father. Though initially stunned, they are a resilient duo and find cheeky ways of remembering their Mum by doing things she hated: "We pissed on the seat. We never shut drawers. We did these things to miss her, to keep wanting her." But their Dad is an empty shell who finds it almost unbearable to carry on without the love of his life:
"I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her."

Crow takes over as a nanny to the boys while their Dad grieves. He comes up with activities to keep them occupied. But he also challenges their father to accept what has happened and get on with his life. And with Crow and the boys' help he is able to survive:
"They offer me a space on the sofa next to them and the pain of them being so naturally kind is like appendicitis. I need to double over and hold myself because they are so kind and keep regenerating and recharging their kindness without any input from me."

I really can't do this book justice with a short review. It's a hugely original exploration of grief and loss, and though it tackles a sorrowful subject it's extremely life-affirming. It is full of lines that take your breath away and scenes to make your heart burst. I only wish I knew more about the work of Ted Hughes so that I could appreciate all of the references. It's an unforgettable read, one that should be savoured and treasured.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,423 followers
January 22, 2019
First Read: November 2016, Rating: 5 stars
Second Read: January 2019, Rating: 5 stars

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, with the crow’s perspective being 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.

For fans of dark and atmospheric speculative fiction and those with a love of the macabre. This offers the literary trope of the image of the crow as a symbol of life with grief. Lyrical, tragicomic, bizarre and bewildering, this is beauty and pain in the written form.

Read all of my thoughts and my full review here
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,488 reviews12.8k followers
October 11, 2016
A Ted Hughes scholar and his two young boys grieve over the death of their wife/mother. Enter some magical realism! A Crow appears and hangs out with the sad family as they deal with their loss.

I hate the cover design of the paperback edition. Anything that’s plastered with blurbs like this one is just obnoxious. Do I need to see that many superlatives to pick up a book? No. I never read them anyway but that doesn’t stop this one from including three pages of blurbs besides the crap on the cover. Oh and look it won a bunch of awards too. Must mean it’s great, right? Nope - in fact, in my experience, the opposite is usually true and that’s certainly the case with Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.

The chapters are divided between Dad, Boys and Crow. Dad and the Boys’ voices sound identical despite a supposed gap of decades between them. Crow’s is written in bad poetry beat-shit - here’s an example:

“Gormin ‘ere, worrying horrid. Hello elair, krip krap krip krap who’s that lazurusting beans of my cut-out? Let me buck flap snutch clat tapa one tapa two, motherless children in my trap, in my apse, in separate stocks for boiling, Enunciate it, rolling and turning it, sadget lips and burning it. Ooh, pressure! Must rehearse, must cuss less. The nobility of nature, haha krah haha krap haha, better not.”

Meaningless drivel but ARTY-SOUNDING so I guess give it an award or three? Crow is apparently a reference to a Ted Hughes poem - I almost never read poetry and won’t pretend I know squat about Hughes’ - and Porter’s clearly a fan and wannabe poet-star himself. But it’s that kind of crummy writing which evokes nothing that turns me off of poetry in general.

There are a couple of well-written scenes like the Dad getting back into dating slowly and spreading his wife’s ashes but they’re not original - if you’ve come across stories like this before, you’ll have seen this kind of stuff already. Porter does nothing different with them here and says nothing new about grief either. You get sad, you get over it enough to carry on, but you always carry a piece of grief with you forever. I know this - doesn’t everyone??

Pretentious and uninteresting, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is one level up from a creative writing student writing about his gran dying - an easy sentimental subject to get some cheap, empathetic tears but ordinary, shallow, full of obvious observations and wholly contrived.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews50 followers
August 6, 2018
Library - overdrive - ebook

I’ll start with the ending ‘first’... it’s sooo beautiful- I doubt any reader could read the last page just once.

I took the ‘WISE’ suggestion from another reviewer...a little ‘late’. Had I read their review- I would have learned of his/ or her recommendation.... which is: “before” reading this small book - ( around 100 book pages) - google
“Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Platte and The Crow” on wikipedia.

The ‘same’ reviewer - written in 2016 - posted on Amazon by ( her), *Norma Hayes*, expressed words better than anything I might add in trying to describe this thin book.
So... I’m borrowing ‘part’ of Norma Hayes review ( thank you Norma - wherever you are):

“The story is about morning and survival after the death of a loved one, so the disjointed style very accurately catches your thinking and feelings at such a time. This may sound depressing, but it’s not, it even has a few funny moments”.

There were a few parts I didn’t understand- absolutely no problem with the context- but a few of “those disjointed parts”.....
But by staying with it ... I was greatly rewarded with the ending. ‘Then’ going back to read ‘those confusing parts’ ( plus the Ted Hughes information)... I was a satisfied happy camper!
Not all readers will be as slow to catch on as me.
It was also ‘wonderful’ to add reading Emily Dickinson mini-poem:
“Hope is a thing With Feathers”.

Crow is such a lovely ‘character’...
Crow is grief...
Crow is supportive...
Crow loves so deeply she doesn’t want you to hide away - deny yourself happiness-

Mom died. Dad and the boys meet Crow. He’s part of the family.

One of the most original grief memoirs I’ve ever read. Sad - but also soo beautiful and uplifting!

A special thanks to Goodtreads friend - *Amanda* for bringing this book to my attention!
Profile Image for Shawn.
251 reviews42 followers
August 21, 2016
Largely incomprehensible rubbish. A story of a father and two sons grieving and coming to terms with the death of their mother. The reason we know that...? Because the synopsis tells us that's what this "novel" is about. If it hadn't, and we were just to read this nonsensical crap, we would be utterly clueless as to the point. Primarily, because there is no point.
This is one of those books where the author chose a topic least likely to garner criticism (who's going to pan a story about young kids grieving their dead mother?), strung together disjointed, unrelated, sparsely rendered series of words, and let human nature take it from there. Few people will own to not understanding a single thing written, when being told that the majority of people reading it thought it "poetic" and "profound" and "deep". It was none of those things. It wasn't even clever. It was quite simply, awful.

Woman: Sunlight filtering heavily, pale, longing, misunderstood.

Possum: Dorito's, cabbage, Windex, sturgeon, hip, hop, hip-hopping, tailgate, once only.

Woman: In the open field, cow dung, mist, dew. Conclusion: Recovery.

Possum: Sing-song, singalong, DingDong, headstrong, prolong, footlong. Eat fresh.

See? Anyone can do it!!! That was my story of how Petey the Possum helped me get over having wasted time reading this book. It is every bit as effective at getting across my trauma as this novel was at addressing grief.

Incompressible is not poetic! It is not clever! It is not deep, or profound, or enlightened, or any of the other really cerebral things this author hoped he appeared to be! Incomprehensible is just that -- incomprehensible! And nonsense attempting to be passed off as high brow literature is unforgivable.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,580 followers
April 12, 2016
(Nearly 4.5) It may seem perverse to twist Emily Dickinson’s words about hope into a reflection on bereavement, but Porter’s exceptional debut does just that: tweak poetic forebears – chiefly Poe’s “The Raven” and Ted Hughes’s Crow – to create a hybrid response to loss. The novel is composed of three first-person voices: Dad, Boys and Crow (the soul of the book: witty, onomatopoeic, often macabre). Dad and his two young sons are adrift in mourning; the boys’ mum died after an unspecified accident in their London flat. The three narratives resemble monologues in a play, with short lines laid out on the page more like stanzas of a poem. The closest comparison I’d make is with David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time.

See my full review at Shiny New Books.
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,795 followers
February 22, 2022

“Lint, flack, gack-pack-nack,” says the crow

Oh I love when a book is off-kilter, all odd and fascinating, with jazzy language. This novella is just that—I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I mean come on, we have a crow here who is uttering a prose poem! He talks for a while and then a man and his two boys who are grieving the death of a wife and mother talk; the crow and the people alternate chapters. The crow is around to help them all cope, especially the father. The emotions seep out through the sentences; there’s a lot unsaid but it just creates more intensity. It’s so clever the way the author lets us fill in the blanks, and we end up feeling what they’re feeling. Their grief is profound.

Here is a chronology of my reactions:

Opening pages: Ah, this is where I need to be. With a crow holding me at my door. This feels right. I’m in heaven!

Page 10: The crow is talking too fast. I love the cadence and word combos, but a lot of what he’s saying is going right over my head and sounds like, dare I say, gibberish? It’s almost okay that I can’t understand some of it, the language sounds so beautiful.

Page 20: I’m getting sort of pissed at the crow. I want him to shut up just a little because I want to hear what the man and his boys have to say—stuff I’ll be able to relate to.

Down the road: The crow does shut up a little—and stops being so obscure—and I settle back down into this wonderful and strange book that I can’t put down.

The grieving man is a scholar who is studying the poet Ted Hughes; supposedly the crow comes from the pages of Hughes’ poetry. I’m sure there are plenty of allusions and much symbolism to be had, but I know nothing about Hughes’ poetry, so that was lost on me.

Here are some gemmy sentences—

One of the crow’s first soliloquys:

“Very romantic, how we first met. Badly behaved. Trip trap. Two-bed upstairs flat, spit-level, slight barbed-error, snuck in easy through the wall and up the attic bedroom to see those cotton boys silently sleeping, intoxicating hum of innocent children, lint, flack, gack-pack-nack, the whole place was heavy mourning, every surface dead Mum, every crayon, tractor, coat, well, covered in a film of grief.”

From dad:

“We will never fight again, our lovely, quick, template-ready arguments. Our delicate cross-stitch of bickers.”

“She won’t every use (make-up, turmeric, hairbrush, thesaurus). She will never finish (Patricia Highsmith novel, peanut butter, lip balm)….I will stop finding her hairs. I will stop hearing her breathing.”

“I refused to lose a wife and gain chores, so I accepted help."

From the boys:

“She was beaten to death, I once told some boys at a party. Oh shit mate, they said. I lie about how you died, I whispered to Mum. I would do the same, she whispered back.”

“Various other things slipped. We pissed on the seat. We never shut drawers. We did these things to miss her, to keep wanting her.”

This book totally seduced me with its imagination and soul. It’s one of those books where every sentence is a gem. I used to not like magical realism, but man have I changed my tune. This book is right up there with two favorites—Nothing to See Here and Chouette—both of which are full of brilliant magical realism.

This book is like nothing I’ve ever read. It’s rich, really rich. I read it in two sittings. I’m sure lots of people will read it all at once; it would be satisfying to not break the intensity.

The only reason this novella didn’t get 5 stars is because the crow lost me sometimes. But boy, most of this book was unbelievably delicious. It’s a debut; I so hope the writer will pick up his pen and write another book soon.
Profile Image for Kyriaki.
428 reviews185 followers
July 9, 2019
Μια Μαμά πεθαίνει και αφήνει πίσω της έναν Μπαμπά και δύο μικρά αγόρια. Λίγες μέρες μετά το θάνατό της κάνει την εμφάνισή του ένα κοράκι δηλώνοντας πως ήρθε για να μείνει για όσο χρειαστεί. Ένα κείμενο πιο πολύ ποιητικό, παρά πεζό, λίγο συμβολικό, που πλησιάζει σχεδόν τον μαγικό ρεαλισμό.
Έχουμε τρεις εναλλασσόμενες φωνές. Μια ενιαία φωνή των αγοριών, που τη μια είναι και οι δύο μαζί ή μια ο ένας και μια ο άλλος, χωρίς όμως ποτέ να ξεχωρίζουμε ποιος είναι ποιος, η φωνή του πατέρα, δυστυχισμένη, εγκλωβισμένη στη θλίψη και στο πένθος από τις αναμνήσεις της νεκρής συζύγου και η τρίτη φωνή του κορακιού, που μια μέρα χτύπησε την πόρτα, σαν μια άλλη Μαίρη Πόππινς (γιατί εμένα αυτό μου θύμισε) για να διορθώσει την κατάσταση. Αυτή η τελευταία, είναι μια φωνή καυστική, ειρωνική, δυσάρεστη, άλλοτε με χιούμορ και άλλοτε σοβαρή, κάποτε ωμή και κάποτε τρυφερή. Βρίσκεται εκεί για να προστατέψει, να βοηθήσει, να καθοδηγήσει, να συμφιλιώσει. Ή μήπως να προκαλέσει;

Ο κάθε άνθρωπος αντιλαμβάνεται το θάνατο διαφορετικά. Για κάποιους σημαίνει σειρήνες και ουρλιαχτά, ενώ για άλλος συνοδεύεται από φίλους και συγγενείς που συμπαραστέκονται. Ο καθένας αντιμετωπίζει την απώλεια ενός αγαπημένου προσώπου με άλλο τρόπο. Κάποιοι θέλουν να μένουν μόνοι, να έχουν ησυχία, άλλοι χρειάζονται να μιλήσουν σε κάποιον, ένα φίλο, κάποιον ψυχολόγο ή ένα κοράκι.

Πολύ ωραία γραφή. Κάπως λυρικό, κάπως γλυκό και κάπως απότομο. Νομίζω πως ήταν ένα πολύ ιδιαίτερο βιβλίο με υπέροχη ατμόσφαιρα, θλιμμένη, μελαγχολική και γεμάτο εικόνες. Είναι από τα βιβλία που τα διαβάζεις με τη μία, με μια ανάσα που λένε. Την μια λέξη μετά την άλλη, την μια πρόταση μετά την άλλη, μέχρι να φτάσεις στο τέλος. Από τα βιβλία που τα σκέφτεσαι για καιρό αφότου φτάσεις στο τέλος. Μου άρεσε πολύ!

η άποψη μου και εδώ:
Profile Image for Meike.
1,519 reviews2,470 followers
October 28, 2019
In this allusive, wildly expressionistic and slightly enigmatic experimental text, Max Porter tells the story of a widower and his two young sons who suffer in the immediate aftermath of their sudden, traumatic loss. To help them cope, a crow visits and temporarily stays with them - the "thing with feathers" is a fable-like creature, "a myth to be slipped in", "a trickster, (...) ancient and post-modern, ilustrator, editor, vandal...". The character of Crow is modelled after Ted Hughes' poetry collection Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow which he wrote after the suicide of his estranged wife Sylvia Plath. The father in the story is a Hughes scholar, so he seems to turn to poetry and the crow in his desperation, thus creating a totem for himself and his children, imagining a counselor through their grief with very real effects.

In short chapters alternating between the viewpoints of "Dad", "Boys", and "Crow", we learn about the family's past and present, often illuminating feelings of emptiness and desperation through the description of everyday occurrences, mundane experiences and the family's surroundings. Porter finds intense, moving and sometimes haunting images to reveal the complex inner turmoil of the father and the children. Experimentimg with text forms and tones as well as employing literary and musical references, the text is both playful and deeply sad, shifting between all kinds of feelings and reactions attached to and evoked by grief, thus giving a multi-dimensional account of sadness and mourning. The function of Crow as a kind of imaginery caregiver is never static, he tries and fails to help the family - and then he tries yet again.

"Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project", the father knows. This book has no agenda: It does not offer hope or comfort, it does not fetishize sadness, it is not an angry accusation of the randomness of destiny. Rather, it celebrates the strength and beauty of poetry, its ability to reflect and affect human experience and emotion.

"We miss our Mum, we love our Dad, we wave at crows. It's not that weird." What a fantastic book.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,180 reviews1,941 followers
December 23, 2022
This is a brave and quite original angle on grief, which is so much a part of the human condition, something we all experience. The plot is very simple, a mother of two young boys dies very suddenly and this is a poetic record of their and their father’s struggle with grief. The father is a Ted Hughes scholar and the surprise package is Crow from the poem by Ted Hughes, who moves into the family home to help with the grief process. Porter has said that part of the impetus for this was the death of his father when he was six. The title also has a nod to Emily Dickinson (Hope is a thing with feathers).
We all know grief in one way or another. I have encountered it in my work. Taking funerals as a vicar and then as a humanist celebrant. I have probably taken a couple of thousand funerals. I remember all the children, all of them and their parents. Grief isn’t a thing with feathers, it is crushing compressing and all-embracing. I remember one single mother whose eighteen month old child had died of meningitis. As I talked to her she told me about her child, but also about the domestic abuse she had experienced from the father. She railed against the injustice of life, which had taken her little boy away from her just as she and he had started to make something of their lives. I could only listen. I also remember when working as a care assistant in a nursing home and talking to residents, some of the rawest memories were about grief. One women spoke about a child she had lost over eighty years earlier, who she still thought about every day; the grief was still present.
As I said, this is original and very brief; it could easily be read in one sitting. I am not a great fan of Ted Hughes or of the poem that originated the idea, so it didn’t really work for me, but I am glad I read it and I’m sure it will work for some. The individual sections are entitled Dad, Crow or Boys. It is interesting and Crow, as befits the bird is a little unsavoury and crude. At one point Dad thanks Crow for retrieving some of his wife’s memories of her childhood:
“‘Thank you Crow.’
‘All part of the service.’
‘Really. Thank you, Crow.’
‘You’re welcome. But please remember I am your Ted’s song-legend, Crow of the death-chill, please. The God-eating, trash-licking, word-murdering, carcass-desecrating math bomb motherfucker, and all that.’
‘He never called you a motherfucker.’
‘Lucky me.’”
I think the reader’s reaction to this book will be very much determined by how they react to the idea of Crow. It wasn’t really for me, but it’s a good read.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,869 followers
March 17, 2022
I loved the character of Crow. There were amazing flashes of goodness throughout, and flashes of "maybe that is what it is like for some people" to experience grief. I'm a little undone by the sense that it's too cute and too sparse for my taste, for it to be quite as meaningful as it is to other people. I need more doom 'n gloom with my grief. A little more lacrimosa with the whimsy and the feathers.
Profile Image for Britta Böhler.
Author 9 books1,867 followers
June 15, 2016
This book is a wonderful reading experience, one of a kind. It's presented as a novella, but for me it was more like a collection of poems. The language is inventive and brutal and beautiful. It's not an easy read (especially if English is not your mother-tongue), even though it is very short, and you should definitely take your time to digest this book.
And: the 'Dad' in the book is a Ted-Hughes-scholar, i.e. it helps for your understanding of the book if you also read Crow, a collection of poems by Ted Hughes. (Thank you Jen Campbell for pointing this out!!).
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
September 23, 2016
A moving and tragicomic prose poem which centres on a grieving father and his two young sons as they cope with the sudden death of a wife and mother with the "help" of Ted Hughes's Crow. A deeply original work which deserves the hype - I am no expert on Hughes, and I felt that greater familiarity would have made it even more resonant.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,048 reviews904 followers
November 1, 2020
My goodness, this was beautiful, original, mesmerising, heartbreaking and everything I love about literature.

I love the title.
I'm fond of crows/ravens.

If you like audiobooks, Jot Davies' narration is brilliant.
Profile Image for Roula.
502 reviews139 followers
October 7, 2020
"θα μεινω ώσπου να μη με χρειάζεστε πια".. Αυτά είναι τα λόγια ενός τεράστιου μαύρου κορακιου που ένα βράδυ χτυπά την πόρτα και εισβάλει στο σπίτι και τη ζωή ενός άντρα που πρόσφατα έχασε τη γυναίκα του και έμεινε να επουλώσει τις δικές του πληγές, όσο και των δύο γιων του.. Και πράγματι, υπάρχει τόσο μεγάλη αληθεια στα λόγια αυτού του κατά τα άλλα άκρως ενοχλητικού κορακιου (που δε χρειάζεται να το σκεφτείς πολύ για να καταλάβεις ότι είναι ένα σύμβολο), καθώς η θλίψη, την οποία αντιπροσωπεύει, είναι κάτι που το χρειαζόμαστε, που γαντζωνομαστε από πάνω του γιατι στις στιγμές που συμβαίνουν μικρές ή μεγάλες τραγωδίες και έρχεται ο κόσμος άνω κάτω, η θλίψη είναι η μόνη σταθερά, το μόνο πράγμα που είναι εκεί για σένα, για να πιαστείς από πάνω του και να ξέρεις ότι δε θα σε αφήσει, μέχρι εσύ να το διώξεις. Στο βιβλίο αυτό λοιπόν βλέπουμε πως διαχειρίζεται τη θλίψη ο πατέρας /σύζυγος, ο οποίος και ανοίγει την πόρτα στο κοράκι και τα 2 μικρά παιδιά που ναι μεν βρίσκουν τα φτερά του κορακιου εδώ κι εκεί, αλλά πιο πολύ διαχειρίζονται τη θλίψη με το μαγικό τρόπο των παιδιών, τη φαντασία.
Λάτρεψα και αυτό το βιβλίο του Porter, ο οποίος με συνοπτικές διαδικασίες μπήκε στο μυαλό μου ως ένας από τους συγγραφείς που θα παρακολουθώ το έργο του φανατικά. Και πάλι, όπως και στον Λαννυ, υπάρχουν τα θέματα του θανάτου, της απώλειας, της ανθρώπινης φύσης, της παιδικότητας. Η ατμόσφαιρα που πηγάζει από το βιβλίο, σκοτεινή, μελαγχολική με μια δόση μαγείας κλιμακωνεται σε ένα τέλος που νικητές βγαίνουν η ελπίδα και η αγάπη.
Οι αναφορές είτε άμεσα είτε έμμεσα σε ted hughes, Sylvia plath ή και Edgar Allan poe, θα έλεγα, είναι κι αυτές πολύ ταιριαστές με το όλο θέμα και συντελούν στην όλη ατμόσφαιρα.
Τελος να πω πόσο ευχάριστα εξεπλάγην όταν είδα ότι το βιβλίο έχει γίνει προ ετών θεατρική παράσταση με πρωταγωνιστή τον υπέροχο  cilian Murphy... Πόσο θα θελα να το είχα δει...
4.5 αστέρια για την ακρίβεια

Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

We miss our Mum, we love our Dad, we wave at crows.
                          It’s not that weird.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
June 15, 2016
I'm putting this on my poetry shelf even though it isn't really poetry, but the way it is written feels like prose poetry.. sometimes.

This is fiction and so many of the grief books I have been reading lately are non-fiction, so in some ways it doesn't feel as "true." Partly because it is imagined in the way fiction always is, but also in the way that the father in the story is writing from the perspective of an imaginary crow, because it connects to Ted Hughes and he is a Ted Hughes scholar, and because it allows him to personify elements of grief that he couldn't otherwise. But... that is the element that I simultaneously enjoyed the most from a writing standpoint and found the least successful from an authentic perspective.

I love when the crows themselves are talking, the language they use, very fun. I kept stopping to read out loud just to hear the words, playing with accents since they're so obviously Cockney (I think.) But more touching is the space created for the boys who have lost their mother, for the father who needs to be a little weird until he can process the grief.

There are also, between the crow dialogues and the morbid games the little boys play, some true reflections on grief.
"Moving on, as a concept, is or stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix."
And sometimes the crows are the wisest, even though they are the father/husband.
"[Grief] is everything. It is the fabric of selfhood, and beautifully chaotic. It shares mathematical characteristics with many natural forms."
In the grief cannon, this one is more esoteric, a musing, but I've read poetry and memoir that goes much deeper.
Profile Image for Alexander Peterhans.
Author 2 books172 followers
May 10, 2022
When my dad suddenly died, a couple of years ago, I was struck by two things (well, actually, I was struck by a lot of things, but those are too personal even for a Goodreads review) - how utterly banal it was, how insanely normal it was (for something so extraordinary, I mean), and how everything I had read/watched/listened to about death and dying hadn't prepared me for the reality. At all. It was nothing like I expected it to be.

I have never read Ted Hughes' Crow poem, and perhaps I should have. I thought lots of parts of the book were moving, but I personally could not relate to the Crow character, even if I just saw the Crow as a personification of grief. Grief doesn't need a personification, it doesn't need a metaphor. The terrible thing about grief is that it is only grief, it cannot transform, it is inescapable. Grief is actually quite simple, that gives it its power.

Like I said, I liked a lot of the book, and was really moved by it. And I can only speak about how I experienced grief, I understand it's different for everyone. But the Crow parts just got in the way, for me.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,691 reviews637 followers
November 30, 2016
Here is a case study in not appreciating a book: I was lent this prose poem about grief, which I most definitely would not have chosen off my own bat, and challenged by the lender to read it in less than 45 minutes. I timed myself and it took me 27 minutes. I am a compulsive speed-reader, something that really isn’t conducive to the enjoyment of poetry, even poetry that I actually like. And this I did not like, unfortunately. The self-referential style did not charm me and the use of language failed to notably distinguish itself. The poem did not touch me emotionally or resonate with my experiences of grief. The grief depicted in the poem is exclusively masculine in nature and the character being grieved for has only the identities of a wife and mother. Nothing beyond that emerges about her, and the only female voice appears in a very brief conversation with a dying grandmother. The crow seemed to me a literal manifestation of Western culture’s toxic refusal to let men feel or process emotion. Men’s feelings of sadness apparently have to be channeled into violence, literature (as here), or some other action. There is also a fair amount about parenting, which I am relatively uninterested in as I’ve never wanted to have children. To top it all off, the recurring mentions of Ted Hughes gave me flashbacks to a formal dinner at which I was seated next to an academic researching Hughes’ fondness for fishing. Over three courses, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the poet’s fishing trips, including the fact that Sylvia Plath sometimes accompanied him despite her lack of interest in the pursuit. I pictured her reading, scribbling in a notebook, and napping, with the occasional interjection of, “Christ, Ted, when are you going to catch a fucking fish?”

To conclude this case study: I am not by any means saying that ‘Grief Is the Thing With Feathers’ is a bad book, just that I am not a suitable audience for it. Now to formulate some polite remarks with which to return it to the lender.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,398 followers
December 7, 2016
I’ve never read Ted Hughes’s Crow, and I definitely think reading that poetry collection ahead of, or in tandem with, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers would have made for a more enriching experience. Even so, this was a vivid, poetic novel about the loss of a loved one. I was moved by its wisdom and awed by its originality, and I even laughed occasionally despite how sad it was. I can see myself reading this again at some point—for such a short book, there’s a lot going on.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,678 reviews280 followers
February 10, 2017

Nearly everyone alive has lost someone dear to them. Not everyone can write well about it but Max Porter has done it in breathtaking fashion.

A man has lost his wife suddenly, unexpectedly due to an accident. His two young sons have lost their mother.

Three voices reach out to us:

The boys as a sort of braided, combined consciousness, with the young boys-eye-view of the events, the emotions, the weird adjustment to a life run only by dad and a home without a mom.

The dad, figuring it out day by day, seeking oblivion but tethered to life by his boys.

The crow, an imaginary presence who drops feathers as he performs the role of grief counselor and family guardian. That crow symbolizes the magical thinking so well described by Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking.

Max Porter has been a bookseller and is currently an editor for Granta Books. He loves poetry and this is his first novel. You can learn about how and why he wrote it by listening to his interview on the Otherppl podcast, but I suggest reading the book first.

Very short chapters, some of which read like poetry, take you through the grieving process of the man and his sons. That crow is a trickster myth character who mixes words, sounds, free verse, and shenanigans.

If you have ever lost someone you loved and grown weary of the stock phrases (I am sorry for your loss), the platitudes of grief counselors, the surreal days and nights of dreams and hauntings by the lost one, this book will feel so familiar.

Such grief never really ends and it can make one feel slightly insane, so for me it brought new insights and a sort of reassurance and comfort and forgiveness for my own.
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794 reviews386 followers
June 21, 2019
Ένα πολύ ιδιαίτερο βιβλίο που δεν ξέρεις αν στην πραγματικότητα σε κάνει να νιώθεις λυπημένος αμα το διαβάζεις ή το αντίθετο. Είναι στιγμές που νιώθεις τόσο βαρύ το φορτίο να διαβάσεις για το πένθος και άλλες φορές η λυρικότητα του κειμένου σου προσφέρει μια ιδιαίτερη ανακούφιση ισως και λύτρωση. Το η θλίψη είναι ένα πράγμα με φτερά νομίζω ένα βιβλίο που δε μπορείς ποτέ να είσαι σίγουρος αν σου άρεσε ή όχι. Τουλάχιστον εγώ το αναρωτήθηκα πάρα πολλές φορές κατά τη διάρκεια της ανάγνωσης. Φτάνοντας όμως στην τελευταία του σελίδα δεν ξέρω με πλημμύρισε έτσι μαγικά με ένα πολύ ωραίο αίσθημα. Δεν ξέρω αν ήταν το κατάλληλο βιβλίο για μένα αυτην την περίοδο της ζωής μου αλλα τελικά ναι νομίζω ότι μου άρεσε, με άγγιξε.
September 11, 2018
I was initially torn between two and three stars for this book, but with much consideration, I've settled on two. I possibly may need to reread this book, at some point, but at the moment, this book was just "Okay" for me.
The first part of the book seemed pretty jumbled, and rather confusing, but as I ventured through the book, I got used to the style of the author's writing.

Since this book is based on the emotional subject of death, I do think this was done well. I liked the way the book is written in three perspectives of the Father, the boys and the magical element of the crow. It was the crows perspective that I found to be rather baffling at times, and I had to reread a few of the passages to gather an understanding on what was being said.
This book is essentially a reflection on grief, how people deal it and how to move forward. I believe this book isn't for everybody, and unfortunately, this time, it's left me feeling pretty hollow, and I don't feel like I've read anything fulfilling enough for me to feel satisfied.
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