“I felt it would be years before the knotted-string dream of other people’s performances of woe for my dead wife would thin enough for me to see any black space again, and of course – needless to say – thoughts of this kind made me feel guilty.”
Title: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Year and place of publication: 2015 – London
This might well have been the most adventurous year in my reading life. I have always been (maybe too?) fastidious about the novels I picked up to read, focusing mainly on classics, and then sticking to the authors whose style I happened to like. I’ve read Austen, Dumas, Balzac, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But I hardly ever gave myself the chance to refine my taste and broaden my horizon by reading something different. This changed quite radically this year, thanks to becoming a member of the Silent Book Club on FB and following Instagram accounts with a bookish theme. My TBR list keeps growing, and I only want to find a job to be able to afford the luxury of ordering more and more books. (More time to read would be nice as well but as they say, if you really want to do something, you’ll find the time.)
I have to confess that “Grief Is the Thing with Feathers” came to me as a case of fatal attraction. I fell in love with the cover! It’s so simple and yet so ominous. Grief seemed also an interesting subject to read about, because it is something that everyone who loves, must encounter sooner or later in life, yet it is something we all fear, perhaps.
I started reading with the expectation to love this book. The concept is fascinating: grief appears to a father and his two sons in the form of a crow. I won’t say that I loved the story because to be perfectly honest, I didn’t. But I am quite ready to say that is very well done.
We can read and write eloquent, collected reports in prose and verse about grief but the truth is that grief is everything but logical or collected. It is utter senselessness, it is void, confusion, desperation. It pains us because we remain here without the other: orphaned, widowed, friendless – we do not mourn the dead, we mourn ourselves. It is tragical because it is selfishness dressed up as care. It is tragical because it is self-destructive. Grief can dumb us. Grief can destroy us. Grief can hold us in its power.
In this respect, Max Porter’s book is one of the best accounts ever written on grief. I must admit that I had trouble following the sentences at certain parts, there were passages I didn’t understand at all, and after a while, I gave up trying so hard. Whether I am not intelligent or insightful enough to decipher the meaning behind each sentence or it was the aim of the writer to create a book that cannot be wholly understood, I cannot tell for certain. I am sure that I prefer to be given adequate information and long descriptions in a clear, comprehensible English. But I have a suspicion that the writer of “Grief Is the Thing with Feathers” denied me this experience on purpose: grief is not something you can wholly understand or process. It is something beyond you.
Reading these lines and chapters was like getting close to grief itself. It was like experiencing grief all over again. This book did not give me something – it took away something from me. It left me with a void.
“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.”