No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, September 06, 2015

2015/19: The Crane Wife -- Patrick Ness

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.[loc. 1697]

One night George, a middle-aged divorced man living in Bromley, wakes to an unearthly keening. In his garden he finds a huge white crane, with an arrow through its wing. He removes the arrow, and the crane flies away.

Perhaps it is coincidence that Kumiko, a mysterious and beautiful Japanese artist, comes into George's print shop the next day. She makes exquisite art from feathers: George, as it happens, makes origami figures. The combination of their artistic creations makes something greater than the sum of its parts -- illustrations to a story about a volcano in love with a crane -- and George finds his life transformed. He is one half of a fashionable artistic collaboration, and he is in love.

George's daughter Amanda has troubles of her own (her workmates are vile; she's a single mother still in love with her son's father; she's not that good with people, including herself), and she is amazed and appalled to find that her father has a new lover. George tries to reassure her, but in the process realises that he actually knows very little about Kumiko. He's never even visited her home.

Tensions escalate, old secrets boil up, and the story of the crane and the volcano -- which is interposed with the chapters of George and Amanda's stories -- rushes on to its conclusion.

There are some beautiful images in this novel, and the central story of George and Kumiko is at once romantic and pragmatic. I was less taken by Amanda's story, not least because its tone was more humourous and colloquial, and it sat oddly with the mythic elements. (Print shop employee Mehmet, and even Amanda's bitchy and apparently vacuous colleague Rachel, have more gravity than Amanda.) The way that the story of the crane and the volcano twist around and into the 'mundane' parts of the story, though, is intriguing and accomplished.

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