Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
This was an odd book; I liked it, but it was odd. It follows George, an American in London (with uncanny similarities to Ness himself) who is has pretty much checked out of life. It hasn't gone well for him; he runs a small printing shop, is divorced and is all too often told that he is too nice for women and let go. In the opening chapter (which is beautifully written and provides an instant hook, which unfortunately is not replicated again in the novel), George wakes up in the middle of the night to find a crane in his back garden, a crane which has an unusual arrow through its wing. George goes outside and proceeds to remove the arrow, saving the life of the bird. The bird flies away, and George goes back to bed.
He then meets a beautiful woman named Kumiko, who walks into his shop asking for some printing help. George and Kumiko inevitably fall in love, and over the course of the novel it is increasingly implied that Kumiko is the crane in human form. It is implied that George saved Kumiko and thus she is now here to do the same for him, yet emotionally rather than physically. George and Kumiko work together on artwork and have a remarkably quick romance yet George feels that Kumiko holds something back, which he is throughout the novel trying to figure out, before the dramatic ending.
Interweaved in this narrative is the story of George's daughter, Amanda, who again needs to be emotionally saved. Amanda is also divorced, a single mother and finds it hard to connect to people and thus has no friends. Kumiko provides a connection that she finds it hard to understand, but proves to Amanda that she is not inherently damaged.
I felt some aspects didn't quite work; I was confused by the entire storyline with Rachel. Why was she affected so strongly by Kumiko- just because everyone else was? I don't understand why her character needed a resolution; for me, her only purpose was her failed liason with George. I also couldn't quite understand the relationship of George and Kumiko; I think they needed more standalone scenes together, just conversations, to show their real chemistry, and just getting to know each other. Although their relationship is supposed to be a whirlwind romance, one based on fate and sheer happiness, so maybe that is not actually needed. I also felt like the inclusion of the myths weren't needed; they halted the narrative and didn't always make much sense, so it felt like Ness was trying to hard to include a sophisticated metaphor. I like the idea of the parallel tale and the source material, however I think it would have been better to summarise this at the beginning or weave it in in a more subtle, less chunky way.
The opening was definitely the strongest part of the novel, as was the relationship between George, Amanda and Jean-Pierre, which I found so endearing. JP was hands down the best character; I found myself laughing out loud at some of his lines, surprising for a small child. He's the kind of kid who cheers up every page he's on, and I'd like to know him in real life. George was also likeable, which I think helped with the story; it would have been hard to read this novel if its protagonist was a grumpy old man. His inherent cheerfulness and strive for happiness makes him a good character who you in turn want to achieve his goals, and feel sorry for when he makes a mistake. Overall I think Ness did a good job with his source material and created an intriguing and endearing novel. It wasn't 100% perfect or clear, however I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
What was it about?
Would I recommend? Yes, I think so.