Friday, 14 October 2016

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter Review


A Ted Hughes scholar and his two young boys grieve over the death of their wife/mother. Enter some magical realism! A Crow appears and hangs out with the sad family as they deal with their loss. 

I hate the cover design of the paperback edition. Anything that’s plastered with blurbs like this one is just obnoxious. Do I need to see that many superlatives to pick up a book? No. I never read them anyway but that doesn’t stop this one from including three pages of blurbs besides the crap on the cover. Oh and look it won a bunch of awards too. Must mean it’s great, right? Nope - in fact, in my experience, the opposite is usually true and that’s certainly the case with Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. 

The chapters are divided between Dad, Boys and Crow. Dad and the Boys’ voices sound identical despite a supposed gap of decades between them. Crow’s is written in bad poetry beat-shit - here’s an example: 

“Gormin ‘ere, worrying horrid. Hello elair, krip krap krip krap who’s that lazurusting beans of my cut-out? Let me buck flap snutch clat tapa one tapa two, motherless children in my trap, in my apse, in separate stocks for boiling, Enunciate it, rolling and turning it, sadget lips and burning it. Ooh, pressure! Must rehearse, must cuss less. The nobility of nature, haha krah haha krap haha, better not.” 

Meaningless drivel but ARTY-SOUNDING so I guess give it an award or three? Crow is apparently a reference to a Ted Hughes poem - I almost never read poetry and won’t pretend I know squat about Hughes’ - and Porter’s clearly a fan and wannabe poet-star himself. But it’s that kind of crummy writing which evokes nothing that turns me off of poetry in general. 

There are a couple of well-written scenes like the Dad getting back into dating slowly and spreading his wife’s ashes but they’re not original - if you’ve come across stories like this before, you’ll have seen this kind of stuff already. Porter does nothing different with them here and says nothing new about grief either. You get sad, you get over it enough to carry on, but you always carry a piece of grief with you forever. I know this - doesn’t everyone?? 

Pretentious and uninteresting, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is one level up from a creative writing student writing about his gran dying - an easy sentimental subject to get some cheap, empathetic tears but ordinary, shallow, full of obvious observations and wholly contrived.

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