The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

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The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Love. It delights and confounds and even destroys, doesn't it? And this not only what The Crane Wife is about - it's what it does, too. Based on an old Japanese folk tale, it's also about stories. I'm always confounded but, reading The Crane Wife, I was also delighted.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Canongate
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0857868748

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The Crane Wife ticks all my boxes. It's by Patrick Ness who is one of my favourite writers of Young Adult fiction. It has a basis in myth and legend and still better in an ancient story new to me. It doesn't go on and on and Ariston for half a billion pages. Best of all, the author includes a shout-out for the brilliant Decemberists. I agree with Ness: this is a band you should look up. A heavy reading schedule meant I didn't get to it last year when it was first published but now it's out in paperback and here I am. I wasn't disappointed.

George suffers from an excess of kindliness. You wouldn't have thought being kind is a bad thing, would you? But George is too kind for his own good. The women in his life like him for his kindness but it also bores them. What fun is a 65% relationship that comes without a hint of danger or risk attached? And so George is alone. Also single is George's daughter Amanda, whose lack of self esteem and radical honesty leads her to be an uncomfortable, spikey companion. Amanda's tenderness is reserved solely for her small son, JP.

George awakens one night to hear a sharp keening outside his window. Searching for the source, he finds an injured crane in his garden. He pulls an arrow from its wing and the crane looks deep into his eyes before it flies away. The next day, a woman called Kumiko appears at George's printing shop. Her strange, feathered tile art is complimented and completed by George's hitherto undirected book cuttings and the pair soon fall in love, lost in the strange magic the art has produced.

The tiles tell the story of the cataclysmic love between a volcano (destruction) and a woman born of a cloud (forgiveness). But every story changes with the teller and the book follows it as it plays out in myth, with George, with Amanda, with everyone. And just as stories change with the teller, so does love with the lover. Things will never be the same for George.

I thought it was all rather lovely. The Crane Wife is a blend of myth, fantasy, magical realism and romance. What balance you take from it is up to you - just as it's also up to its characters. George must learn that you can't possess love; you can only love it and live it. Amanda must learn to love herself before she properly loves another. And Kumiko? Who is she? I won't say.

I was surprised to find that The Crane Wife has all the piercing sweetness Ness shows to such devastating effect in his work for teenagers but that it lacked the harder edge he is unfraid of presenting to the young. This is a lovely story about stories and about the shifting sands of love but it doesn't have any bite. I'm not suggesting this is a bad thing - I'm just sayin'. So you know. Regardless of bite, The Crane Wife comes recommended by me.

You might not read fiction for children - or young adults as the newfangled lingo has it - but you should really look at Ness's stupendous YA (see? I even known the short form) series, Chaos Walking sequence. You won't be shortchanged.

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Buy The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness at


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