by Patrick Ness
Published by: Penguin on January 23, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism
A magical novel, based on a Japanese folk tale, that imagines how the life of a broken-hearted man is transformed when he rescues an injured white crane that has landed in his backyard. George Duncan is an American living and working in London. At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes. All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice. But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden. When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself. It has been shot through the wing with an arrow. Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird's wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky. The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in. Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork. George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her. She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him. Witty, magical, and romantic, The Crane Wife is a story of passion and sacrifice, that resonates on the level of dream and myth. It is a novel that celebrates the creative imagination, and the disruptive power of love
The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness is based on the Japanese folk tale, “Tsuru no Ongaeshi” and influenced by a contemporary Decemberists‘ song, also inspired by the lore. Ness delivered a beautifully written tale as he weaved in magical realism. The story Ness shares is not a romance but instead it is a tale about love, loss and forgiveness itself. While I struggled with certain aspects it had equal parts that were powerful and brilliant. Mini review: beautifully written, sorrowful and yet hopeful.
The tale is told from multiple perspectives and begins when we meet George an American living in London. He awakens to strange noise in the middle of the night. He discovers a beautiful Crane in the backyard. The Crane has been shot in the wing with an arrow and the two share a moment as George helps the creature. The next day a woman named Kumiko arrives at his shop and asks for help with her artwork. George finds himself falling desperately in love with this secretive woman. We also meet Amanda, George’s twenty-five year old daughter who has an incredible knack for finding and losing friends. The tale that unfolds is strange, beautiful, simple and yet complicated. There weren’t many characters and I liked this uncomplicated aspect. George is a likable enough character. He is very ordinary; a hard working divorced stiff who never quite made a relationship last. Kumiko is mysterious and perhaps only two-dimensional, but I think that was the author’s intent. Mehmet, the shopkeeper, is a hoot, and he added lightness to the tale. Amanda is a colorful character who is quite the misfit. I enjoyed her tale and found myself sympathizing with her. She trudges through life to the beat of her own drum and sadly it keeps her out of the “inner circle” with regards to friendships. She has a foul mouth and is quite open in sharing her opinions. I found her to be hilarious and outrageous at times. Her opinions are not wrong per se but different from those of her gender. For example, she loathes The Wizard of Oz.
The Crane Wife was unique with lyrical passages and beautiful prose. I found myself rereading parts and becoming mesmerized in the rightness of the words lying before me. Yet at other times I felt Ness repeated himself especially with regard to how nice a guy George was. I get it! George is nice and good. But I am still not impressed. I absolutely loved the thread regarding the artwork that George and Kumiko created and how it interlaced with the story itself. This was very clever and added a little suspense to the tale. While reading, I was reminded of novels such as the Snow Child and Lost Lake. However, I felt those were executed more smoothly and will appeal to a much broader readership. Despite that, Ness had me suspending belief and accepting all that was set before me. The tale is presented in pieces almost as if Ness is showing us parts of his newest painting. As the book draws to a conclusion we are presented with this completed picture and his message is clear. While not perfect for me, it was an easy read and one whose messages I shall ponder.
The Crane Wife is a novel that some will adore, and others will shake their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about but I think all will agree that Patrick Ness is a wonderfully talented writer whose stories stay with you long after you closed the book.
Three and half cups of coffee out of five
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