Book Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

George Duncan is an American living and working in London. He is divorced, the owner of a small print shop, and lonelier than he realizes. One night he is woken by an extraordinary sound coming from his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by a giant arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George pulls out the arrow and frees the crane, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. Before he knows it, he meets and falls in love with the enigmatic Kumiko, an artist who changes the lives of everyone around her, including Amanda, George’s angry—and very funny—daughter, her adorable French son and George himself.Wise, romantic, sublime and laugh-out-loud funny, The Crane Wife is hugely entertaining, but it also resonates on a deep, dreamlike, mythic level. Above all, it is a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

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My Review:

I love fairy tales, folk tales, mythological tales – if it’s old, passed down through generations, generally speaking has a moral, and is something that inspires me to dream, I love it.  I love it so much, in fact, that it’s what I’m going to graduate school to study and research.  Although my interest is mostly centered on the oral traditions of Native Americans, I still am very interested in the stories being told around the world.  So I was very excited to see that one of my favorite young adult authors, Patrick Ness, had a book, The Crane Wife, coming out that was geared toward the adult crowd – and it was based on a Japanese folktale, no less!

When I learned that The Crane Wife was based on a Japanese folktale by the same name I did a bit of research.  I love re-tellings almost as much as I love chocolate (which is quite a bit) so I prefer to know the original before venturing into the re-telling.  The gist of the original story is that a man finds an injured crane on his doorstep, takes her in and nurses her back to health at which point she becomes a beautiful woman with whom he falls in love with an marries.  The woman is able to make beautiful silks and the man sells them and they are doing well … until his greed takes over.  He has sworn to never watch her silk-making process and one day, his greed overcoming him, he breaks that promise.  As you can imagine, things do not end well.

So Patrick Ness tackles this story with a bit of a modern twist.  The story is told from its effect on two different people – a divorced man and his daughter, both of whom are experiencing difficulties in their every day lives.  Unfortunately, Ness tries a little too hard with an artsy style of writing, I’m assuming to attempt to try to capture some of the beauty of the original folktale, and the result is a bit confusing.  There are journeys into dreams and moments when I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was happening or was some kind of allegory to something else.  The result was a story that seemed muddled and, as a result, lost some of its appeal.  There was so much potential beauty here, but instead of doing a true to life modern retelling, Ness attempted to do a modern mythical telling and it didn’t work well for me, at all.

I’m very disappointed that I didn’t love The Crane Wife.  It was one that I was very much looking forward to in 2014 and I was excited to see it was a January release so that I could dive into it.  Unfortunately, Ness just didn’t manage to pull this one off, but I still love him and his writing.  Hopefully the next adult release of his will work a little better.

Check out these reviews!

  • “[The] moments of beauty and truth are buried under the repetitiveness strain of its themes – forgiveness, power of storytelling, greed – and the odd bluntness in which they are presented. ” – The Book Smugglers
  • “It’s a very sad story peppered with tragic elements that would haunt you for days.  It may not be a story for everyone but I suggest that you should still try it if only for the reasons that you’re an art lover and that you want to experience Ness’ gaudy writing style.” – Thoughts and Pens
  • “Suffice it to say that the book mixes fantasy and reality in a bittersweet way.” – The Fourth Muskateer

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