Staff Review: The Crane Wife

9781594205477The Crane Wife

Patrick Ness

Penguin Press

$26.95

Available January 2014

The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness, is a loose re-telling of a Japanese folktale set in modern times.

George Duncan is the man who rescues a wounded crane, and Kumiko is the mysterious woman who appears shortly afterwards. Kumiko creates artwork using feathers, and George creates collages with pages from old books, but when Kumiko adds her feathers to George’s cutouts, something magical happens: the artwork is transformed into more than the sum of its parts. People who see the finished pieces are affected emotionally and are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to possess one.

There are two other narratives woven into this story, a realistic one involving George’s daughter, and a surreal one involving a volcano, who seems to be another side of Kumiko. Although George and Kumiko fall in love and plan on marriage, she remains elusive, always keeping part of herself hidden, including anything to do with her artwork. The more intent George is on getting a firm commitment from Kumiko, the more she seems to slip away, and this is indeed what happens.

Many of the reviews of this novel have been lukewarm, but I don’t think Patrick Ness is capable of writing a bad word, and I loved it. The Crane Wife has a magical feel to it, where what is real and what is not is never completely defined. Since I like this kind of stuff, this book was right up my alley. George says pretty early on in the novel that, “no one was ever just one thing, no history ever one version”, so the reader should not expect to be entirely sure of the truth of any one version of events. It reminds me of my grandfather telling me that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

~ Lysbeth

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