The Crane Wife // by Patrick Ness

//published 2013//

//published 2013//

There are books that don’t make sense to me, and it really annoys me.  Those are the books where it feels like the author is trying to hard, trying to be clever, and comes across as extremely smug.  The people who do (or at least claim to) understand those books are even worse…  I can’t tell you how many people have completely patronized me over my sort of ::shrug:: attitude towards Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events…  books that I found to be fine but…  pointless?  Apparently I’m too stupid to understand the point?  I’ve had a lot of people willing to tell me that I’m too stupid to understand them but, interestingly, not a single one willing to actually explain them to me.  Ah well.

The point is, there are also books that don’t make sense to me, but it’s okay.  There is a depth and a magic to them, and I want to read them again (and maybe again), trying to glean the next level of understanding from them.  The Crane Wife was definitely in this latter category.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though I didn’t really get it at all.

Based on a Japanese myth and a song by The Decemberists, Ness has crafted a story that is genuinely beautiful.  I picked up this book because I loved Ness’s A Monster Calls so very much.  While The Crane Wife did not touch me at quite the same level, it was still a book I found myself thinking about days after I finished it.

George is a middle-aged shopkeeper in London.  He owns a small print shop.  Divorced with an adult daughter, American by birth, unassuming and quiet, George lives a rather dull and lonely life.  And then, one night, he hears a cry.  In the garden is a crane, her wing pierced by an arrow.  George saves the crane’s life.  The next morning, a woman enters his shop, and George’s life changes completely.

This is not a story of mystery.  We know from the outset that Kumiko must be the crane – but why?  And how?  Ness left me feeling disoriented much of the story – is magic real or is it not?  Is there going to be some kind of logical, scientific explanation for everything that’s happened?  Is Kumiko really the crane?  Which story is real – the story of George, or the story Kumiko tells?

Interwoven with the story of George and Kumiko is the story Kumiko is telling with her artwork, and the story of George’s daughter, Amanda, who has a whole litany of troubles of her own.

I literally cannot describe this story, and don’t ask me to explain it, either.

‘A story must be told.  How else can we live in this world that makes no sense?’

‘How else can we live with the extraordinary?’ George murmured.

‘Yes,” Kumiko said, seriously.  ‘Exactly that.  The extraordinary  happens all the time.  So much, we can’t take it.  Life and happiness and heartache and love.  If we couldn’t put it into a story – ‘

‘And explain it – ‘

‘No!’ she said, suddenly sharp.  ‘Not explain.  Stories do not explain.  They seem to, but all they provide is a starting point.  A story never ends at the end.  There is always after.  And even within itself, even by saying that this version is the right one, it suggests other versions, versions that exist in parallel.  No, a story is not an explanation, it is a net, a net through which the truth flows.  The net catches some of the truth, but not all, never all, only enough so that we can live with the extraordinary without it killing us … as it surely, surely would.’

And yet, despite the fact that I have no words to create a sensible review, this book was hauntingly beautiful and thoroughly engaging.  The development of relationships  between Kumiko and George, Kumiko and Amanda, and even George and his family/colleagues is extremely well done.

In a way, this is a story simply about being human, and what that means.

There were parts of the story that had me rolling my eyes a bit – I almost didn’t make it through the first chapter after I had to spend several paragraphs with George in his bathroom in the middle of the night as he urinates.  I mean, really?  There is such a thing as too much background to what’s happening.

But on the whole, this book was delightful, haunting, sad, yet strangely uplifting.  Like A Monster Calls, which is by no means a happy book, it manages to explore sadness in a way that reminds us that much of life can be sad, yet not hopeless.

At the end of the day, I book I didn’t really “get” completely, but still enjoyed, and would be happy to pick up again someday.  4/5.