BY TARAH CHILDES
George is an overly nice, middle-aged divorcee who lives a quiet life in central London. His unobtrusive existence is interrupted one night when a white crane lands in his suburban back garden after being injured by an arrow. George rescues the crane, and the very next day he meets Kumiko, an enigmatic and alluring woman, who walks into his little print shop. The two become romantically and creatively involved when Kumiko uses George’s art cuttings to complete her feather tiles, creating art pieces that quickly become the most sort after works in London and beyond. However, when George becomes greedy, not for more wealth but for Kumiko herself, he ultimately destroys their fragile relationship.
The Crane Wife marks Ness’s return to adult fiction after a series of successful children and young adult novels, including Monsters and Men (2010) and A Monster Calls (2011), both of which were awarded the Carnegie Medal.
His newest offering is an interpretation of a Japanese folk tale that warms against greed, and follows a similar “contemporary reality interposed with fantasy” formula that we’ve come to expect from Ness. However, alongside George and Kumiko’s love affair, run not one, but two other narratives. The first belongs to George’s daughter, Amanda, a tough but self-destructive twenty-something, who struggles with self-acceptance. The other is the fantasy tale of the crane and the volcano, a doomed love affair that is revealed as Kumiko works on the art tiles she creates. All three stories weave together to create a tale that touches on the major theme of the subjective nature of truth and storytelling itself.
However, while this tale of love and longing is beautifully written and captures many a truth, its subtlety is marred by the way in which Ness constantly reaches out of his characters to make sure that we understand him, much like he is addressing a younger audience.
The Crane Wife is published by Canongate, R210.