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Book Reflections – Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

When I read Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter I was reminded about why it’s so good to belong to a book group. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting book and may never have heard of it other than it was chosen for book group this month.

Porter writes in inventive ways. He uses prose in a playful way from the perspective of two young brothers who play and fight like puppies. The brothers don’t mind bending the truth. For their father he uses magic realism, the prose of grief and a touch of poetry. For the crow, he uses poetry. It’s a surprising, exhilarating and compelling mix. Character development is not central, depicting grief is central. It’s a great book.

Porter’s clever stretching of the English language is impressive. I was reminded of this passage from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve over time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance.

Porter earns the right to do all of those things.

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis provided an intimate perspective on grief but ultimately it was too cute. Porter can’t be accused of being cute. Porter’s book is grueling and unsettling.

I found this plaintive statement from the father after the mother died poignant.

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

I haven’t read anything by Ted Hughes, so the references to his work didn’t mean anything to me. In general I’ve avoided poetry, apart from a slim volume of lovely poems written by Keats on his walking tour of the Lakes District and Scotland and before he died of tuberculosis. I haven’t studied literature and poetry always seemed indecipherable to me and I prefer prose because it is explicit. Porter’s book contains the first poetry that I’ve read in many years. And I enjoyed it!

The only thing about the book that bothered me was that Porter described the crow as stinking and disgusting because it feeds on carrion. I have loved observing birds my whole life and I find crows to be immaculately clean and glossy black. I can’t imagine that they would be filthy or stinking as described by Porter. They are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of things other than carrion. I think that Porter did crows a disservice by describing them as hideous creatures. You can read more about (North American) crows here.

The Guardian offers a good review of this interesting book.

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2018 by in fiction and tagged , , , , , , .
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