Monday, April 01, 2013

"The Crane Wife" - Patrick Ness

I was lucky enough to win a free copy of The Crane Wife from A&U, and the reason I put my hand up for it was simply - A Monster Calls, Ness's earlier novel (written from the idea of Siobhan Dowd). I had heard of this book but it was when one of our Hamline faculty, Jane Resh Thomas, read out the first pages to us and gave us all the shivers, that made me want to read the whole thing. I think it was my top book for 2012.

So when The Crane Wife arrived in my mail box, I was looking forward to reading it. The first chapter, where George saves the crane, is like the opening to A Monster Calls - the language is so beautiful and the way Ness describes the encounter is so magical and dark, that you just want it to keep on going for the whole book. Of course, it doesn't. There are lots of other eloquent passages but none, I think, that match the opening.

It's a novel, so we need a story and characters. Plain, ordinary George is caught up by Kumiko, who comes into his copy/print business one day and discovers him cutting shapes out of old books - these shapes are what she needs to complete her tile pictures made of feathers and, in the way of instant celebrity now, the tiles are soon much sought after and people pay big money for them. Except ... the tiles are somehow magical, as are many of the other changes in George's life.

Add in George's daughter, who is unreasonably and uncontrollably angry with the whole world, Rachel with evil intent, the funny and long-suffering printer's assistant Mahmet, the mysterious Kumiko herself, and we have a strange mix of characters who swirl around and bounce off each other without really connecting.

I always tend to look at the structure of a story and, in this case, I think Ness is using metaphor, layering the story in the same way feathers are layered and of differing kinds on a bird. The feathers also act as symbols, so you get the impression of a story that grows and overlaps itself, rather than something with an inexorable linear narrative. I wasn't sure that Ness was completely in control of this - at times I felt the story wavered and tottered under its own ambitions, but I'd rather experience this and think about it afterwards than expect a writer to always play safe and produce something less mysterious!

I believe the story is based on a Japanese folk tale, but it wasn't one I was familiar with and I didn't feel any need to go and look it up (but you can if you want to). It certainly does have that mythological air about it, all the same.

1 comment:

Sandy Fussell said...

I've ordered this one. I read a wonderful review of the Readings Books website and ordered it straight away. Patrick Ness and Japanese folk tales - a mix I knew I would love before I even read a word