Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

Back in November, I got the chance to present an award at the ‘Books are My Bag Reader’s Awards’. Like a nominee at the Oscars, it was an honour, just to be asked, but I also got to present the first award at the very awards.

 

I can already feel the blue plaque heading my way.

 

The award was for best fiction book of 2016 and the shortlist, selected by booksellers, was a strong one. Among the heavyweights of Maggie O’Farrell, Jessie Burton and Anne Enright were debut authors Joanna Cannon, Andrew Michael Hurley and Max Porter.

 

I’d read three of them and Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep was already in my reading pile. When I spotted Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers in my local WHSmith, I grabbed it so that I could add a fourth tick to my list (and it’s not often I actually buy books, so this marks it out as special right away).

 

It is not a long book, I could read it under an hour, but it’s not meant to be read in one sitting. It’s to be savoured, dipped into.

 

When I revealed it as winner up on that stage I said “and the winner is… on my bedside table, so no spoilers please.”

 

In reality, that’s a stupid thing to say about this book – it’s not the type of book that has spoilers, in fact, the spoiler is right there on the front cover. Grief is the thing with feathers. The metaphor of crow is spelled out for you right there.

 

(As an aside, the reason I ended up speaking such nonsense was because I was concentrating on not saying what was actually in my head which was namely “What are you doing, Alex? Get off the fucking stage.”)

 

So, what is it about? Dad. Boys. Crow.

 

A woman has died leaving behind three men. Dad and her boys. Dad, a Ted Hughes fan, introduces Crow into their lives. Crow is the thing with feathers. Crow is grief.

 

At first crow seems quite ominous, an imposing force on the small family’s life, however as we progress through the snapshots of their lives we learn that the the crow, their grief, is there to protect them from something worse: despair.

 

This book is more poetry than prose, each snapshot of their lives presented in short form, a small anecdote, or even just a sentence or two, capturing a moment or feeling as the boys deal with their grief.

 

The type of book you will be able to dip in and out of and find different meanings each time in the same sentences.

 

I’m not sure it would have been the title I would have picked to win the award for best Fiction 2016 – it feels different to fiction somehow, a category of it’s own, an outpouring of emotion, and not the sort of book I would normally read.

 

But I’m glad I did – and I’m pleased I got to present Porter with his award, because it certainly deserves recognition.

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