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.