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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese folk tale - retold
The first edition of the Crane Wife had a beautiful cover with rich, deep colours and a striking image. It screamed to be read.

It is difficult to categorise the novel. For much of its part, it is a standard novel of an everyman (George) who runs a print shop in London, his troubles with his irritating employee Mehmet, and a parallel story of his socially...
Published 20 months ago by MisterHobgoblin

versus
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I'm afraid I found this book a disappointment. I loved Patrick Ness's thoughtful, intelligent insights, his wonderful storytelling and his outstanding writing in the brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy and was hoping for more of the same here. Sadly, I found it a slightly uncomfortable mix of magical realism (never a favourite of mine), a meditation on the nature of truth...
Published 20 months ago by Sid Nuncius


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese folk tale - retold, 28 April 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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The first edition of the Crane Wife had a beautiful cover with rich, deep colours and a striking image. It screamed to be read.

It is difficult to categorise the novel. For much of its part, it is a standard novel of an everyman (George) who runs a print shop in London, his troubles with his irritating employee Mehmet, and a parallel story of his socially awkward daughter Amanda and her work colleagues Rachel and Mei. It's a standard offbeat drama with a small cast of slightly eccentric characters and everyday issues of disappointing love lives and horrible bosses.

But there's more. There's a magical realist vein as George rescues a crane with an arrow through its wing. This may or may not be related to a woman, Kumiko, who comes into George's print shop with some artistic feather cuttings. By an amaaaazing coincidence, George likes to indulge in paper cutting and the two hit it off in a big way. Together, George and Kumiko produce a set of tiles, depicting a Japanese story of love between a volcano and a crane. This is brought to life in a series of vignettes that intersperse the main text. They are, for the most part, opaque and pretty weird.

As the novel progresses, the surreal gradually starts to take over the mundane. At times, it can be hard to follow, particularly when dream sequences add a third dimension of reality. But Patrick Ness pretty much holds it together. The strength is in having extraordinary things happening to very ordinary people. As much as George's life transforms, he remains true to himself and continues to act like a well-intentioned Bromley print shop proprietor.

There is a love story at the novel's heart, but this is not some slushy romance. Men need not be afraid. Rather, the story is heavily stylised, with focus being as much on loss and impossibility as on the joys of spring mattresses.

The novel is essentially a retelling of a Japanese folk take. This may account for some of the strangeness, but prior knowledge of the Japanese tale is not necessary to enjoy The Crane Wife.

Overall, The Crane Wife is an enjoyable and relatively quick read. It poses questions but doesn't force answers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambiguity, 21 Oct 2014
By 
R. Lawson "clavedoc" (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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This is a difficult book to revue; I find my feelings towards it are ambiguous, but then again ambiguity is integral to the book itself. The skeleton of the book is that George finds a crane having fallen to the ground, shot with a huge arrow. He saves it and the next day meets a strange lady called Kumiko who (ambigously) may or may not be Japanese. Between them they create unique works of art. The book charts the development of their relationsip and how it affects George's family. The unfolding story resonates between literal and metaphorical, inhabiting an uncanny space between the two. There is no simplistic resolution. Love, freedom, forgiveness, sadness and transience are all found together, not as as alternatives, but as integral parts of each other.
The blurb tells us that this is a retelling of a Japanese folk tale; maybe there is a Buddhist influence of loving kindess, with imperminance, kindness, love and lack of attachment at the core. Though the author admits this is a retelling it has a newness and feshness about it, and is intriguing and thoughtful. In many ways it ought to be a five star book but in keeping with the themes of ambiguity, for some reason there is something not completely satisfactory in its totality. Nevertheless I will be looking out for more by Patrick Ness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aiming for mythic intensity, but far better when its feet are on the ground, 22 Oct 2014
By 
Epigone (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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George, unassuming printshop owner, the prince of banality, retrieves an arrow from the wing of a crane which spontaneously crashes into his garden. Overcome, he tries to return to his slowly crumbling life, until a mysterious woman walks into the print shop and changes his life.

The joy of a book like this is knowing, in your heart, roughly where it will go. You wonder where the metamorphosis happens and how, and why. You expect the crane to be an arbiter of change, and for its arrival to spark a chain of symbolism that tends towards an interpretation of life or at the very least an intermingling of reality with metaphysics and a breaching of ordinary possibilities.

Yes, that is what happens in this book, and when it works it is really quite striking. It doesn't always work, though.

This is a book with grace at heart and some remarkable moments of insight into the contradictions and impulses that lie at the heart of human relationships. The insight is wrapped in language that is sometimes gorgeous but all too often a little under-wrought or, conversely, overworked. It's full of passages that aim to depict a delirious kind of beauty which somehow play out too predictably or too effusively to really be beautiful; mythic interjections undercut by banal references to underpants and moments of self-doubt that simultaneously shattered the atmosphere and made me long for more of the simple, calm moments set outside of the magic-realist world in which the characters tend to find themselves. George's employee Mehmet, his daughter Amanda and her co-workers, her ex-husband; George's ex-wife. All of these are evoked with spirit and life, but the magic intervenes to make them small and overrun their stories again and again.

I do recommend this book; it's got a great heart and some charming ideas, and indeed some lovely language. The caveat is simply that I read so often wondering how much better the book beneath it could have been. I would have liked to have seen it as a novella, with the mysticism either worn down to a pearlescent veneer or glossed up and stripped of its variegated uncertainties and self-effacements. Perhaps then I could have loved it.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Rakes at my Heart, 3 April 2013
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
I should declare up front that I was predisposed to love this book. Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy is one of the finest rendered dystopian visions in print. The middle volume, The Ask and the Answer is one of my all-time favourite books.The Crane Wife by the Decemberists is one of my favourite albums. Both book and album draw their inspiration from the same Japanese Folk-tale. Ness opens his novel with a Decemberists lyric and acknowledges their brilliance in his afterword.

The novel opens with divorcee George being woken by a keening sound from his garden. Investigating he finds an injured bird. A white crane, its wing pierced by a long and ancient arrow. Shortly afterwards he meets Kumiko. His life is never the same. Before Kumiko George's life is prosaic, but together they make fantastic art. Their relationship is passionate, yet unearthly. It causes ripples in every corner of George's life. Kumiko touches everyone she meets.

The Crane Wife is a pitch perfect tale about the hazards of love. Love in every sense; familial, romantic and in friendship. The greediness of love; the need to possess, the need to be possessed. The selfishness, the selflessness. Love with all its contradictions. It is also story about stories. How the same story can be told a different way for every viewpoint. This theme is picked out beautifully at the beginning and remains lurking at the back throughout the entire novel.

The writing is sublime. Funny, razor sharp and devastatingly accurate. Interleaved between the main narrative is a folk tale, central to the main story yet entirely separate, it is very different in style, and may not suit all tastes. Towards the novel's climax the folk-tale and real-world narrative dove-tail, giving the book a sense of magic and wonder. I'm not always a fan of magic realism, but this is both gentle and in keeping with the book as a work of art.

To unpick The Crane Wife for review is to diminish it. It is a tale about the beauty found in everyday life. Compelling from start to finish, I was unable to stop reading, even after switching out the lights. The characters and their incomplete travails played upon my mind in the dark of the night. The only way to find peace was to turn the lights back on, and devour the conclusion. Exceptional.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful modern fairy tale, 26 July 2014
By 
Thomas Douglas "TD" (Marlow) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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It is not often I can describe a book as beautiful, but this is one such - a touching modern fairy tale, based very loosely on an ancient Japanese one, which tells the story of George and the mysterious Kumiko who enters his life.

It has a constant thread of melancholy, of unmendable fractured hearts, and is written with a lightness of touch which stops it every becoming cloying.

It is a brief read, seeming much shorted than its 300 pages, and urges you on with a storyline which keeps you looking for more.

Ness is clearly a writer of profound talent.

Five stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A modern fairy tale, 21 Sep 2014
By 
Brida "izumi" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Paperback)
THE CRANE WIFE is a strange and beautiful tale, a story which is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale. When you read this novel, as with any fairy tale or folk tale, you do have to suspend your disbelief. But, what I think it tells us is that, sometimes, life can be more extraordinary than we might imagine.

The tale is about George; a divorcee, one night he comes to the aid of a crane which has been shot by an arrow. Following this act of kindness, a mysterious woman comes into his life, changing it in every way. This is a tale which is obviously about love but there is also a studied examination of art. George and Kumiko create separate pieces of art which, when combined, become hugely popular and bring them instant success. The art that they create shows a dichotomy which is often present in life - there is beauty, delicacy, supplication against power, force and the threat of destruction. In a sense, this is a reflection on love too.

As a lover of fairy tales and folk tales, I really enjoyed this novel. I would recommend it to others who also enjoy the genre, but if you prefer your fiction to be more believable, you may want to pass this one by.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars True Truth, 31 Oct 2013
By 
D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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Main protagonists in `The Crane Wife' are a genuinely nice guy George, his outraged single mum daughter Amanda, and the mysterious woman Kumiko who is to influence their lives. Early (on page 42) George realizes there is no true truth - there are as many truths as there are tellers, and the truth matters less than the life of the story - a story forgotten dies but a story remembered lives and grows. Kumiko insists that stories must be told - how else to live in a world that makes no sense - stories do not explain and do not end. Author Patrick Ness ingeniously portrays a story as a net through which the truth flows.

After the first chapter with George saving a wounded crane his life is transformed by Kumiko who tells him a magic story via a succession of art works - ostensibly based on a Japanese folk tale - and though this is included in a series of vignettes it does not seem to be fully integrated. There are 2 interspersed stories - in parallel with the dreamlike myth of a lady in the cloud is what is presented as reality between George, Amanda and Kumiko- and this allows versions of truth to be viewed from different perspectives. In the folktale the lady and a volcano must love one another to avoid destroying themselves - this is mirrored by George who must balance his desire to know more about Kumiko, and Amanda who must see herself properly and come to terms with her feelings for others.

George and Kumiko combine artistic talents to produce something extraordinary and greater than their individual works, and in becoming successful their relationships with Amanda are advanced. With a degree of fantasy there is sufficient to create an engaging human character novel, yet Patrick Ness' narration is on some higher intellectually cerebral plane. Interweaving the Japanese folk tale may be regarded as elaborately affected or pretentious - and if so then `The Crane Wife' would be no more than a 3-star average novel - but to those recognising brilliance and subtlety then a 5-star rating is warranted - hence overall 4-star.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Retold fable, 21 Jun 2014
By 
Ray Blake (Hemel Hempstead, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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George Duncan's story is a unique and personal one, told in deceptively simple language that explores a varied emotional landscape. In the print edition (which I read) there is good signposting of the different narrative through distinct typefaces and I wonder how this is achieved effectively in the Kindle edition.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 29 Mar 2013
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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I'm afraid I found this book a disappointment. I loved Patrick Ness's thoughtful, intelligent insights, his wonderful storytelling and his outstanding writing in the brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy and was hoping for more of the same here. Sadly, I found it a slightly uncomfortable mix of magical realism (never a favourite of mine), a meditation on the nature of truth and love, and a collection of random barbs aimed at some of the author's pet hates about modern life.

The Crane Wife is a tale of a 48-year-old man in present-day London, his adult daughter and her infant son as the two adults struggle toward an understanding of love and fulfilment. The agent of this is a mysterious, enigmatic woman who may or may not be the incarnation of a wounded crane and who creates an eastern-sounding allegorical story about the relationship between a volcano and a Lady who was "born a breath of cloud." To me, it often had an air of self-regard while not saying anything nearly as deep as it thought it was and although it was well written I found it a slog because of its often rather pretentious feel.

It does have its moments. There are some rather touching character insights, and some of the satire is neat, like the woman whose every spoken sentence ends with a question mark or someone sitting down to watch "brightly coloured people suffer brightly coloured hysteria all across Saturday night telly," but other targets like cyclists or British stereotyping of Americans felt crudely done and sat uncomfortably alongside the mystical feel of the narrative.

Patrick Ness is a wonderfully talented writer, but I think he has ventured into a genre in which he isn't at home and the book suffers badly for it. I am sorry to be critical of a writer whose other work I have enjoyed immensely, but I didn't think this was up to anything like the same standard. It has enough about it to warrant three stars (just), but I can't really recommend it.

(If you haven't read the Chaos Walking Trilogy, I recommend it in the strongest terms. It's brilliant. Chaos Walking: A Trilogy - The Knife of Never Letting Go; The Ask and the Answer; Monsters of Men )
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An odd mix of beauty and disappointment, 21 April 2013
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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George is living out the fairly boring life of a middle-aged divorced "good guy" until one night he hears a strange noise outside his house. He finds a crane, her wing pierced by an arrow; he saves her and she flies away. The next day, a beautiful, somehow old fashioned woman called Kumiko appears outside his print shop, and he falls in love with her almost immediately. George's adult daughter, Amanda, is mystified and somewhat jealous, living out her own life as a single mother with a small child and feeling as though she's never quite fit in. In small, significant ways, Kumiko starts to change their lives, but never quite lets them into her own.

A re-telling of a Japanese folk tale, The Crane Wife felt to me like an odd mix of beauty and disappointment. In parts of the book, like the actual stories of the tiles, I felt that I could feel the gorgeous writing and meaning I'd found in Patrick Ness's other works shine through. In most of the book, though, I felt disappointment, as something I'd expected to love fell apart with every page.

Perhaps this book just fell prey to the fact that I really don't much like stories set in the "real world". I may be the only person who just didn't appreciate the fact that George is relieving himself in the middle of the night when he hears the crane on the very first pages of the book. I can, in a way, see how Ness was trying to juxtapose the ordinary with the fantastic, by bringing George right into our world with one of humanity's most basic needs alongside the crane's mysterious call and appeal. I can see that, but it's something that I wasn't looking for, and so the book hit a wrong note with me immediately.

Plus, the book is insistent on the fact that George is a good, nice guy. He's one of these nice guys who seems to vaguely feel like the world owes him something for being nice; he has infinite female friends but he's just too nice for any of them to love him, and his ex-wife actually says this in the course of the book. I don't like this stereotype; the world doesn't owe anyone anything and I actually think that there are plenty of women who would love a nice guy (I married one, after all). I also felt that, as the book went on, he actually proved more or less that he wasn't really that nice a guy.

Much of the book also felt a little bit like it was trying too hard to say something meaningful. Patrick Ness's other books are incredible and subtle; A Monster Calls affected me so much that I never actually managed to write anything about it because if anything I felt too much. With this book, I honestly just felt distanced from the characters and the story, almost as though I could see how the weaving was meant to affect me without it actually happening.

That's not to say it's all bad; I found some beautiful passages within the book, and I almost felt as though the interludes about the woman and the volcano could have worked as a short story on their own. Here's one that I marked:

Her hand is raised, ready to fall, ready to end this torment, which she will admit, if only to herself, is as bad for her as it has ever been for him. She loves him and it is impossible. She hates him and that is impossible, too. She cannot be with him. She cannot be without him. And both are burningly, simultaneously true in a way that grinds the cliché into dust. (210)

I actually appreciated the message that we need to trust, to believe that those we love will love us back. But I think some of the meaning of the book slipped through the cracks for me.

I wanted to love this book, but it just didn't happen, and in the end, I feel more disappointed by that than anything else.
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The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness (Paperback - 6 Feb 2014)
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