The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

One of the books I was most excited about for 2013, even before the year started properly, was Patrick Ness’ novel ‘The Crane Wife’. I was a huge fan of ‘A Monster Calls’, my sister is the biggest fan of the Chaos Walking Trilogy, and when I heard that it had magical and fairytale elements to it, well, it was a done deal. We all know how much I love an adult, though not in a fifty shades way, fairytale don’t we? Yet once the book arrived I started to worry, would the book be everything that I imagined (we all imagine what an author has written in a book from time to time don’t we?) or had I subconsciously overhyped the book in my head?

***** Canongate Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

One perfectly average night George is awakened by a strange sound, something between a cry and a crash. Initially thinking that it is his bladder he soon realises that the noise is coming from outside and on investigating he discovers a huge injured crane in his garden. Half thinking it a dream George manages to help the crane which then flies off and life seems to go back to normal. Yet a soon a woman, Kumiko, arrives at George’s printing shop and Georges fortunes, and the lives of those around him start to change. Will these changes be for the better though and why does this mysterious and remarkable woman seem so intent on helping George, what motives might she have? You will of course have to read the book to find all that out as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. However I think I can talk about the book a little more without spoilers, firstly the characters.

I know it is a real cliché, but sometimes they are hard to avoid, saying that an author’s characters have walked right off the page, yet in ‘The Crane Wife’ that is exactly what they did do. George is initially the main protagonist of the novel and what I loved about him, and indeed what I thought Patrick Ness did marvellously, was that he was a very good man yet not a really middle of the road man who bored the pants of you, even if that is how his ex-wife might have felt about him – in fact I think she says he is just too safe. Genuinely good characters are easy enough to make likeable, not so easy to make interesting though. Ness manages this by giving us insight into various points and events in his life and background. He is middle of the road but you just really like him and want to get to know him better, without him ever becoming ineffectual or dislikeably (not a word, I know) likeable.

“The crane, for its part, seemed to have already given up on him, to have already judged him, as so many others had, as a pleasant enough man, but lacking that certain something, that extra little ingredient to be truly worth investing in. It was a mistake women often seemed to make.”

Patrick Ness also makes the characters around George incredibly interesting, almost show stealing. Obviously we have the mysterious enigma that is Kumiko, we also have George’s daughter Amanda who not only did I love but occasionally wondered if Mr Ness had somehow been inside my head and stolen some of my thoughts. I have a feeling a lot of readers will feel like this about Amanda, she may well become one of my favourite characters in fiction. Amanda is one of those people who find themselves at odds with life; she finds it all a bit awkward.  You know when you go to a party and people are sharing jokes and you someone tells a joke that is either a bit too graphic, a bit dirty or a bit unsavoury (yet you know every other bugger at the table is desperate to laugh deep down but daren’t) that is very much Amanda. Subsequently she has found it hard to keep friends, illustrated with a time when she says something shocking about ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which had me laughing for ages, and indeed has a failed marriage behind her though she does have a lovely son from it. She also finds that this being at odds makes her angry, very angry. I loved her, mainly for her flaws, because she was a really honest character and I completely empathised with her. We have all been Amanda at some point.

‘Oh, sweetheart, I don’t even know why you’re crying now, but please –‘
‘Because I don’t understand how people talk to each other, Dad. I try, but I just blunder on in and knock over the china and spit in the soup and break all these rules that no one will even tell me –‘

It is the same with some of the more minor characters in the book. George’s brilliant, yet completely useless and rather lazy, assistant Mehmet and Amanda’s frenemy Rachel are wonderfully drawn and you will feel you have definitely met them before. Even characters who appear in one page stayed with me long after they were gone, one of George’s teachers and an old lady especially. This of course all down to Ness’ writing which I have loved before but the love seemed to runneth over with ‘The Crane Wife’. I loved the brooding and mysterious atmosphere of the novel, the characters obviously but also the way the book seemed so magical and so everyday all at once in that way that only some authors can get. Here I am thinking of the lovefest which I had with Graham Joyce’s writing in ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’, if you loved that you will love this. The first chapter of the book made me cry through the sheer joy of the prose from the opening paragraph on.

“What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself – a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt – but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.”

If I had to pick a fault, and it is a small one, then for me it would oddly be the way that the original fairytale of ‘The Crane Wife’, though written by Ness, was interjected in sections through the book. It was interesting to see Ness write in a different style, it’s very sparse and is done in an almost confusing state of magical realism, yet whilst I understood it was to give us a sense of foreboding at what might be coming it broke the story of George, Kumiko and Amanda a little. Not enough to really bother me, but it was something I noticed even though I enjoyed these sections when I came to them.

Overall I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

I know it only came out yesterday but on the off chance have any of you had a chance to read ‘The Crane Wife’ and if so what did you think? If you fancy hearing more about the book you can listen to a discussion with Patrick and myself on ‘You Wrote The Book!’ just so you know. Which other of Patrick Ness’ books have you read and loved? I need to read the Chaos Waling Trilogy don’t I (don’t you dare tell my sister I haven’t yet as she has said I must for ages), though first I think I am going to get my mitts on Patrick’s first two books. Has anyone read those?


Filed under Books of 2013, Canongate Publishing, Patrick Ness, Review

11 responses to “The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

  1. David

    ‘Magical fairytale elements’ are words that put me right off to be honest, but I must say you make this sound very enticing, Simon. And flicking through it in WHSmith the other day I noticed that he uses a line from The Decemberists’ ‘The Crane Wife’ as an epigraph, and, well, if he likes The Decemberists he’s clearly a chap worth paying attention to.

    I did buy a copy of ‘The Crash of Hennington’ when it came out about ten years ago, which I think might have been his debut. Alas it has long since gone (unread) to the charity shop.

  2. I haven’t had my chance to read this yet (still waiting on the book to arrive). But I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I have to admit I skimmed your post just in case.. And YES, you need to read the Chaos Walking books!

  3. Oh, really want to read this! I loved A Monster Calls too (my review here: When I started reading it I didn’t know what it was about, so it really was a story unfolding for me.

    I haven’t read the Chaos Walking Trilogy yet, but they are on my pile of books for the coming months.

  4. I had a really different reaction to this book than you! I also adored A Monster Calls, but really couldn’t get on with The Crane Wife. For me, the first chapter was perfect and beautiful and everything I wanted the rest of the book to be. Sadly I found it turned into too much modern, and often a little badly written dialogue. And I *hated* Amanda, which is weird as you said how much you loved her as a character!

    I still have faith in Ness, but this was not for me!

  5. I would like to read a japanese version of this myth then read this to see how ness has changed it ,all the best stu

  6. I’ve had a chance to read it – plowed through it in a single heart-breaking sitting. Just absolutely beautiful. Brilliant review, too. It is nice to have gotten my hopes/expectations up for a book AND still have them exceeded.

  7. You’ve given a really beautiful heart-felt reaction to the book. I’ve just read it and agree with you – especially about the character of Amanda who is really vividly and beautifully realized as a self-conscious, awkward, very sympathetic character. I thought her tense relationship with her coworkers was really well portrayed. Also the scene where George was at his own party mingling with the art snobs and pretending not to be the artist was really funny.

    You’re right, the myth with the volcano that played out alongside the main narrative did jar a bit with the flow of the story. But I thought it added a nice element of deeper mythical meaning to a story of characters who are otherise quite ordinary, but still depicted in a fascinating way.

    I’ve had the The Knife of Never Letting Go for ages after a friend recommended it. Looking forward to reading it now – although maybe I should read A Monster calls first?

  8. I’ve got the Chaos Walking trilogy which I’ve been meaning to read for ages. I’m a huge fan of the Canongate Myth Series and can’t wait to read this addition, especially since it’s based on a Japanese folktale. It’s kind of exciting that that authors are willing to try something outside Western literature.

  9. Sharkell

    I’ve just finished this book, I picked it up as a result of your review. What a great story and, reading your review again, I agree with everything you have written. Thanks for the heads up on yet another good book.

  10. Pingback: Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One… | Savidge Reads

  11. Pingback: Books of 2013; Part II | Savidge Reads

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