The Crane Wife. As beautiful, daring and thoughtful as I’ve come to expect from Patrick Ness. Oh to be able to construct stories such as this; he seamlessly blends myth and reality, and makes magical occurrences both ordinary and extraordinary all in one small sweep of his pen.
It all begins when George wakes up in the middle of the night to find an injured crane in his small back garden. It’s a strange experience that seems to both last forever and be over in an instant, as happens with so many moments in life. He’s a middle-aged man with a small commercial business, an ex-wife and a grown daughter. He suffers from being ‘too nice, too soft’; his daughter, Amanda, from being eternally angry. But when, the morning after George’s encounter with the crane, the beautiful Kumiko steps through his copy-shop’s door, the roots of their lives are uprooted and overturned. Kumiko is a mystery to everyone around her, revealing only the smallest pieces of herself, but George falls head over heels and together they walk down a path George could never have predicted.
Interwoven with George’s story is, firstly, Amanda’s unalloyed fight to find a place where she belongs, and, secondly, that of the Lady and the Volcano, an apparent myth that Kumiko reveals to George through her art work. But where does the line of myth and reality lie? Right from the beginning, the reader is subtly led to question whether Kumiko and the crane are one and the same. And as the characters move farther and farther down their new pathways, events take on a fevered sort of reality – yet even here it is hard to know what is really occurring and what parts George is creating for himself in his desperation to know and to understand Kumiko.
Ness plays on this blending of myth and reality, and on the construction of stories, throughout the book, indelibly reminding us that stories are endless and ever changing, and that every person will tell a story in their own way, framed as it is by their own unique perspective of events. Thus, when the denouement takes places, Ness gives us five different versions for how it begins – which one is the right one or the true one? Or, perhaps the better question: is there a true version? Perhaps they each equally accurate and equally true all at the same time.
And the myth of the Lady and the Volcano? This is the other half of Ness’s tale: just as stories are endless and ever changing, so are people. They fight and they destroy, they build and they make love, they hate and they burn and they forgive. ‘Anthem’ is the word that springs to mind when I try to think of describing The Crane Wife, though when I look up the definition in my dictionary it gives one that is overtly religious, which doesn’t seem so appropriate somehow. Yet anthem is the word that sticks in my mind, “a song of praise or celebration”. The Crane Wife is that bittersweet mix of happy-sad satisfaction, a beautiful something that stays in the mind in the hours and days after the book is closed and the reading finished, a consideration of who we are and what we seek in and from life.