grief is the thing with feathers

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

I don't understand why it can be so difficult to write about a book when it's an excellent book. 

I suppose it's because when a book isn't great, it's easy to trip down the bullet list of all the things you don't like, to complain about what went wrong. 

But when a book is so wonderful... it's just too easy to call it a day and proclaim it's perfect. Just go buy it now. Don't waste your time right now reading anything other than this book. 

Grief is the Thing With Feathers is one of those books. 

There are three narrators to Grief: Dad, a father who has lost his wife, The Boys, his two young boys, and Crow, the "antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter" who arrives after the death of the mother to hang out, generally needle at the grieving family, and "to do little squitty shits in places I knew he'd never clean."

I've read some lovely and clever books, but I honestly don't think I've ever read anything quite like this. It's poetry, sometimes in the (sort of) form of poetry but also poetry in the greater sense of simply some eloquent, sometimes disjointed words laced with brutality and tenderness and love. 



Four or five days after she died, I sat alone in the living room wondering what to do. Shuffling around, waiting for shock to give way, waiting for any kind of structured feeling to emerge from the organisational fakery of my days. I felt hung-empty. The children were asleep. I drank. I smoked roll-ups out of the window. I felt perhaps the main result of her being gone would be that I would permanently become this organiser, this list-making trader in clichés of gratitude, machine-like architects of routines for small children with no Mum. Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold. 

The friends and family who had been hanging around being kind had gone home to their own lives. When the children went to bed the flat had no meaning, nothing moved. 

The doorbell rang and I braced myself for more kindness. Another lasagne, some books, a cuddle, some little potted ready-meals for the boys. Of course, I was becoming expert in the behaviour of orbiting grievers. Being at the epicentre grants a curiously anthropological awareness of everybody else; the overwhelmeds, the affectedly lackadaisicals, the nothing so fars, the overstayers, the new best friends of hers, of mine, of the boys. The people I still have no fucking idea who they were. I felt like Earth in that extraordinary picture of the plant surrounded by a thick belt of junk space. I felt it would be years before the knotted-string dream of other people's performances of woe for my dead wife would thin enough for me to see any black space again, and of course - needless to say - thoughts of this kind made me feel guilty. But, I thought, in support of myself, everything has changed, and she is gone and I can think what I like. She would approve, because we were always over-analytical, cynical, probably disloyal, puzzled. Dinner party port-mortem bitches with kind intentions. Hypocrites. Friends. 

The bell rang again.

I climbed down the carpeted stairs into the chilly hallway and opened the front door.

There were no streetlights, bins or paving stones. No shape or light, no form at all, just a stench. 

There was a crack and a woosh and I was smacked back, winded, onto the doorstep. The hallway was pitch black and freezing cold and I thought, 'What kind of world is it that I would be robbed in my home tonight?' And then I thought, 'Frankly what does it matter?' I thought, 'Please don't wake the boys, they need their sleep. I will give you every penny I own just so long as you don't wake the boys.'

I opened my eyes and it was still dark and everything was crackling, rustling.


There was a rich smell of decay, a sweet furry stink of just-beyond-edible food, and moss, and leather, and yeast. 

Feathers between my fingers, in my eyes, in my mouth, beneath me a feathery hammock lifting me up a foot above the tiled floor.

One shiny jet-black eye as big as my face, blinking slowly, in a leathery wrinkled socket, bulging out from a football-sized testicle.



And this is what he said:

I won't leave until you don't need me anymore.

                                                                                                                          Put me down, I said.

Not until you say hello. 

                                                                        Put. Me. Down, I croaked, and my piss warmed the

                                                                                                                            cradle of his wing.  

You're frightened. Just say hello. 


Say it properly.

I lay back, resigned, and wished my wife wasn't dead. I wished I wasn't lying terrified in a giant bird embrace in my hallway. I wished I hadn't been obsessing about this thing just when the greatest tragedy of my life occurred. These were factual yearnings. It was bitterly wonderful. I had some clarity. 

Hello Crow, I said. Good to finally meet you. 


And he was gone. 

For the first time in days I slept. I dreamt of afternoons in the forest."


My heart physically hurt while reading. I've experienced this while going through real-life grief but it's extremely rare for me with reading fiction - I'm not entirely sure I can immediately pinpoint another time it's happened.  

Grief is painfully funny and darkly beautiful.

One of the most incredible pieces of work I've ever read in my life.