Grief is the Thing with Feathers

- Max Porter


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.



There’s a feather on my pillow.
Pillows are made of feathers, go to sleep.
It’s a big, black feather.
Come and sleep in my bed.
There’s a feather on your pillow too.
Let’s leave the feathers where they are and sleep on the floor.


enjoyable/easy to read:
I absolutely loved Lanny, so not only was I looking forward to Grief is the Thing with Feathers, but I also had a good idea of what I was getting myself into.

Moving on, as a concept, was mooted, a year or two after, by friendly men on behalf of their well-intentioned wives. Women who loved us. Women who knew me as a child.
Oh, I said, we move. WE FUCKING HURTLE THROUGH SPACE LIKE THREE MAGNIFICENT BRAKE-FAILED BANGERS, thank you, Geoffrey, and send my love to Jean.
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.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of the background information required to really understand what was going on here. For me, Crow was a character who at times made perfect sense, and at others was complete nonsense, and even sometimes annoying. Because of this, Grief is the Thing with Feathers lacks some of the magic I found in Lanny.

Where Grief is the Thing with Feathers is missing some of the creepy magical undercurrent characteristic of Lanny, it makes up for it with moments that hit like a lightning bolt to your heart, causing a sense of recognition of a feeling you may not have ever named before. These moments are so painstakingly true, it’s impossible to deny them.

We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test.
We used to think we would both die at the same age she had.
We used to think she could see us through mirrors.
We used to think she was an undercover agent, sending Dad money, asking for updates.
We were careful to age her, never trap her. Careful to name her Granny, when Dad became Grandpa.
We hope she likes us.

Not perfect, and sometimes not even good, Grief is the Thing with Feathers was surprisingly still worth the read – even if, like me, you’re venturing in half-blind and ignorant of the source material.

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.

Eugh, said Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet.



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