The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

When I started reading this book I did not know it was based on a story from Japanese folklore. Which was probably for the better, because I did not know the ending either, though one starts to expect it quite early in the book, which surprisingly is not a bad thing.

George is a middle-aged man, living alone after an amicable divorce. He runs a print shop with his assistant Mehmet (who clearly does not like to work in general and is our comic character here). He has a grown-up daughter Amanda, who has just been through a divorce herself. George has many friends and is generally liked by people because he is really is a nice person. This, however, does not help him to find love, women generally dump him and prefer to be his friends than partners.

One night George hears a noise in his garden when he comes out he finds a crane with an arrow through its wing. He helps the bird and goes back to sleep. The next day when he’s at work squabbling with Mehmet a beautiful woman enters his shop, Kumiko. From one word to the next they start to create art together and their relationship develops. Kumiko creates a series of tiles telling a story and George’s art in her eyes makes the tiles complete. She is not wrong as quickly they make a huge impression on the art world and the couple becomes famous and rich. Kumiko insists on two things: that George never sees her work, so usually, she starts the tile and then brings it to George to add the final piece; and that George does not ask about her past or attempt to see the key tiles forming the story before she shows them to him.

Kumiko impacts the lives of everyone close to George: his raging daughter, Mehmet, Rachel – Georges former lover and Amanda’s boss. They are all changed by her presence. Yet at some point things are getting out of control and inevitably we’re dragged into the dramatic scene that will resolve it all.

It was an easy read, the dialogues are very natural, the prose often witty. A pleasure to read, touching on subjects such as loneliness, greed, lack of love and desire for it, the need to be with someone, but also to be oneself. Sometimes it felt that for such heavy topics it reads almost too easily, like we’re skimming over something deeper here. I’m not sure if the full meaning of the Japanese story was brought out and allowed to fully resonate. The realistic passages describing George’s and Amanda’s lives are so vivid and lively, that they overwhelm the more esoteric telling of the folktale in the background. Despite that, it is a very enjoyable book.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Do you have a favourite book based on a myth or a folktale?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com 

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