Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers
Image source: Google

Rating: 4.1/5

Author: Max Porter

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Publishing Date: September, 2015

Language: English

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

ISBN-10: 0571323766

ISBN-13: 978-0571323760

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 128

Cost: Rs. 375 (Paperback), Rs. 279.30 (Kindle Edition), Rs. 799 (Hardcover)


In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow- antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss gives way to memories, the little unit of three starts to heal.

In this extraordinary debut - part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief- Max Porter's compassion and bravura style combine to dazzling effect. Full of unexpected humour and profound emotional truth, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent.


The synopsis only sounds simple: two boys and their father are grieving for their recently deceased mother and wife. This short length book however, is not that simple with respect to the deeper meanings of the tale.

Set in short and often disjointed segments, this chronicles the years that follow the loss of a loved one from the perspectives of children, a spouse and the crow that visits them to ‘aid’ the family in their grief. What initially appears as a sad regular story turns out to be majestic.

The symbolism of the crow is taken from the works of Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe. The author magically interlinks- reality and fantasy together and the result is as good as it gets. The crow, in the book, becomes the metaphor for grief. It represents mourning and the coping mechanisms the individual deploys. Crow can perform the roles of nurturer and fraudster in quick succession, as needed:

“Crow is a trickster, he is ancient and post-modern, illustrator, editor, vandal…”

The different first-person perspectives chronicle the divergent approaches to dealing with death and combine to give a raw and gritty account of life lived with loss. The writing is immersed in lyricism, quite the Porter’s style-

“Many people said, ‘what you need is time’, when what we needed was washing powder, nit shampoo, football stickers, batteries, bows, arrows, bows arrows.”

In short chapters alternating between the viewpoints of ‘Dad’, ‘Boys’, and ‘Crow’, we learn about the family's past and present, often illuminating feelings of emptiness and desperation through the description of everyday occurrences, mundane experiences and the family's surroundings. Porter finds intense, moving and sometimes haunting images to reveal the complex inner turmoil of the father and the children.

Milestones of the Book:

  • Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize
  • Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award
  • Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize

About the Author:

Max Porter is an English writer, formerly a bookseller and editor, best known for his debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories.

Complicité and Wayward’s production of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy opened in Dublin in March 2018.

Max Porter is Editorial Director of Granta and Portobello Books. Max lives in Bath with his family.