Grief is one of those strange things no-one really knows
how to write about. Yes, we miss people, yes we're upset for ourselves, yes
it heals with time, but how can any writer capture the elusiveness of it, the
way grief and mourning pops up unasked for in the long term, just when you
think things have adapted and changed, that life is moving on, things have
changed for the better?
In this new slim 100 page book, Max Porter personifies grief as a crow; a
black stinking shadow in the corner, a wise yet anarchic and unwanted
presence in a household where a mother has died and two boys and their father
try to carry on.
I found the book yesterday in Waterstones and read it in one sitting last
night in bed - it's pages aren't even full of oversize type in narrow
columns, and there are big gaps between sections, as the boys, the father and
crow all get to 'speak' in turn. The short blurb on the front flyleaf
explains that the father is a Ted Hughes scholar, which gives a reason for
the appearance of Crow and justifies Max Porter's appropriation of Hughes'
invention. (Except, of course, that Hughes borrowed Crow from trickster
mythology and folk tales anyway.)
I was surprised when I googled the book this morning and found that I'd
missed several national newspaper reviews, but also surprised by their
what-seems-to-me wilful misreading of the book. Many reviewers seem to
suggest this is Porter inhabiting the psyche of Hughes after Plath's death; I
don't think it is.
Porter's Crow is a more domestic, less violent bird. It inhabits a world of
thwarted familial life, gives voice to despair and confusion, acting as a
dark part of the father himself, which he fights and argues with whilst
trying to keep his house in order and on track. This Crow is a
personification of absence, a black hole in the father's and the boys' life;
the elephant in the room which has become a bird. He is sarcastic, funny,
pretentious, argumentative, interfering, comforting and elliptical. He
facilitates memory and pain and healing.
Late on in the book, Crow asks permission to be gone, then recounts how he
found the mother's body, and leaves some advice, including 'Just be good and
listen to birds.' Then he is gone. The boys and the father sprinkle their
mother's ashes and shout their love out loud into the wind, a cathartic
scream of loss and pain and love. Then the book ends, although we know the
pain will not.
This is a beautiful, painful, heartfelt book. An exquisite literary
© Rupert Loydell 2015