Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

The review below originally appeared, in edited form, in The Irish Times.

412BJYKd0YLTed Hughes’ Crow marked his return to poetry following the suicide of Sylvia Plath, a cataclysm that can be felt in that collection’s violent rupturing of form. Borne of his obsession with Hughes, Max Porter’s debut appears at first to confront bereavement more directly. A woman has died suddenly. In their London flat, her husband and young sons cling to the disordered remnants of family life.

We hear their voices in alternating passages: Dad (the characters are not otherwise named) is immersed in grief, a faltering zombie of duty; the Boys, profoundly hurt, are children still, distracted and elliptical, orbiting a barely understood absence.

Enter Crow, an ancient trickster of inscrutable motives (as he was for Hughes), and here a superbly voiced embodiment of natural ferocity. Antic, capricious and fearsome, Crow nonetheless sets about defending this disturbed nest, urging its occupants like fledglings from their helplessness.

Porter has been daring in shaping this extraordinary book, but its force is in its almost unbearably proximate examination of loss. Like the small intimacies that Dad remembers, it pleads to be relived: ‘Again. I beg everything again.’

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