The Crane Wife is weird and I’ve never encountered this type of storytelling. I’m not sure if I’ve read this book right but I think it has a lot of symbolisms used which unfortunately I’m still struggling to understand. And I don’t think I’ll understand them any time sooner.
In The Crane Wife, we get to meet George Duncan, a 48-year old divorcee who for some reason couldn’t keep a relationship even if he’s one of the best guys who existed on this planet. While generally contented with his life, he’s very lonely deep down never understanding why all his relationships failed. Entwined into the story is an account of his daughter’s life and a Japanese myth that revolved around the mysterious Kumiko.
The first pages of The Crane Wife frustrated and at the same time impressed me. Please know that The Crane Wife is my first Ness read and the reason why I requested it from NG is because I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about his work. So when I dove into it, I was high with expectations only to be annoyed instantly. Clearly, Patrick Ness has a way with words and they were hauntingly beautiful but what got me all riled up was that there was unnecessary story telling about George’s life to the point that I kept on pausing and wondered whether I am reading a biography. Flashbacks, while a good strategy to give a solid background for a character, didn’t work well in this book. It made George some sort of an ADHD person who cannot focus on a single thought for a significant period of time. Every time he’s on reflection mode, he would immediately go down to a very long trip down memory lane. The only reason why I kept on going is I was instantly inlove with Ness’ way with words. It was part poetry and part lullaby.
Once I conquered the major obstacle—the terrible beginning that is—the story started to gather speed. The Crane Wife is absolutely unique because it has the feels of a contemporary when in fact, it’s obviously a fantasy. Patrick Ness is a master story teller for his ability to constantly change the atmosphere of The Crane Wife without inducing dizziness. One moment, I was in the present then the next, I was in a mythical place in Japan watching Kumiko’s story unfold. I couldn’t deny the fact that the contrasting tone of The Crane Wife is one of its strongest points aside from Ness’ enchanting prose.
The characters were also believable and I’m certain that I would’ve loved George even without the pointless, long-winded back stories. George is some sort of a pushover and I was surprised that I actually liked him for that. It certainly put a lot of space for him to grow as a character throughout the story. I understand his insecurities and his need to belong… needs that actually pushed him to cheat on Kumiko later on. At first, his action appalled me but I couldn’t totally lay the blame on him. Kumiko chose to be distant even with their shared intimacy. Thus, I understand why he sought out another woman to get assurance and to belong. Really, it did leave a very modern touch to the story.
Another character that stood out to me is Amanda, George’s daughter. She’s bitchy, bitter and she’s unconsciously hellbent on pushing away all the people around her. And I must admit that she reminded me of myself during the days when I woke up on the wrong side of my bed that I found it easy to connect with her. Even the second characters were fully fleshed out particularly Rachel who’s annoying and at times, amusing especially with the way she talks.
Another plus for this book is the plot that is a web of three different stories, George’s, Kumiko’s and Amanda’s. It wonderfully told a story of a melancholic Japanese folk tale without losing the modernesque feel. Not including the very slow beginning, The Crane Wife is highly entertaining and intriguing with it probing into the issues of depression, betrayals and forgiveness. It was hard to get bored since the three sets of interconnected stories were dexterously crafted and had left me wanting for more. And the paper cuttings, man. The paper cuttings that didn’t only bring Kumiko and George together but also brought a positive change to the lives of the people who saw them particularly Amanda and George.
In an overall assessment, The Crane Wife is certainly a unique way of retelling an old folk tale. And like Kumiko’s art, it gave me a feeling that I just want to cry for no apparent reason. 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.
Note: A free ARC was provided by the publishers via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!