Monday, 24 June 2013

Book Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness



Image courtesy of patrickness.com


A Japanese folk tale told to Patrick Ness when he was in kindergarten in Hawaii was the inspiration for this magical meandering story. It is not a straight retelling but it has a lyrical timeless quality that makes the book feel almost mythic.
The Crane Wife begins when the principal character in the book,  a middle aged divorcee called George finds a crane in his garden with an arrow through its wing. He removes the arrow and the crane flies away but the next day the beautiful and enigmatic Kumiko comes into his print shop and George is instantly captivated.
Unlike many stories George isn't a character looking for redemption, instead we are told often of how nice he is, he is even on good terms with his ex-wife. For once this isn't a tale of love conquering all, instead George becomes greedy in his need to know everything of Kumiko's story. The Crane Wife looks at the often destructive power of love, how that desire for knowledge can become all consuming. A constant theme throughout the book is the idea that stories are never ending and change depending on who is doing the telling. Much of the book features a familiar reality with George struggling to communicate with his daughter Amanda whilst battling his desire to possess Kumiko totally and jealously keep her to himself. Amanda is a wonderful character, her anger and tactlessness belying her vulnerable loneliness. Kumiko feels less rounded but I believe this was a deliberate ploy by Ness to ensure we share a little of George's need to learn more about her. We do know she is an artist and makes sculptural pictures using feathers but she believes her work is missing something until she sees George's paper cutting and the two art forms are combined to create something breath-taking that touches people deeply and in ways they can't quite comprehend. Alongside this story is an ethereal and magical tale, gradually revealed to us through the tiles produced by Kumiko and George. Eventually the two strands, reality and myth, converge seamlessly creating a story which is poignantly real yet infused with a magical dream-like quality. The Crane Wife is a story about stories, about art and beauty, love and loss, I had to force myself to slow down when reading it as I didn't want to reach the end. It is a book that drew me in and made me forget the time, a genuine treat to read.

The Crane Wife is published by Canongate Books.

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