The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

Myths, folk and fairytales don’t always lend themselves well to renovation, yet they frequently inspire authors to put their own mark on a well-read story, twisting the conventions into a modern retelling to keep the tale alive and relevant. Angela Carter did this more effectively than most, giving traditional fairytales her particular stamp, and now Patrick Ness has reworked an ancient and popular Japanese folktale into an exquisite and soaring novel.

Taking the skeleton of the original idea, Ness has layered flesh and blood and wings and heart and a whole lot of spirit onto the bones of this story, rendering a tale even more poignant than the original.

George Duncan, an amiable failure of a man, encounters a massive crane in his back garden with an arrow through its wing. He removes the arrow and the injured crane flies away. It is a moving and magical moment in an otherwise mundane life. Into that mundane life, soon after, steps an enigma in the shape of a woman: Kumiko. George’s life becomes a strange thing indeed, filled with art, love and so much that is unfamiliar.

Woven through the main narrative is a mythical, dreamlike telling of a crane and a volcano – a metaphorical tale of possession and obsession and of never truly knowing another. Ness’s world is peculiar, intense, painful and beautiful, and at times reminiscent of a Murakami novel.

Love and loss are central to The Crane Wife, as is art and greed and the power of story. There is a truth to Ness’s writing even amid the strangeness of the world he creates, and such artistry and sensitivity to his storytelling that I longed to stay in that world well after the novel ended and I will return to it again. This book will break hearts.


Deborah Crabtree is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.