Patrick Ness is a spinner of yarns that intrigue, enthral and linger. Enigmatic, sad and full of wonder, The Crane Wife is a story of yearning and disappointment: ‘a dream gone wrong’ – a modern myth that stays with you long after the tale has ended. Read with disarming credulity by Jamie Glover, this is an audiobook to savour and to recommend. It will be only the cynical and flint-hearted who will dismiss the tale and shake it off, the rest of us will find in it many questions and perhaps a few answers.
The opening is bizarre – the naked, cold divorcé and his bladder. But the clues are in the first paragraph – ‘a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever’.
With clear allusions to the Japanese legend of the crane (anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes is granted a wish), here is a cutter of paper who is found by a green-eyed beauty, sculptor of magical scenes created from feathers plucked from her own breast – tableaux which prompt those who see them to give away vast amounts of money to possess them. And, in the end, possession is revealed to be little more than a fleeting but dangerous thrill.
But there is much more prosaic material in the tale, which is a satire on possessiveness and desire. George (our fiftyish divorcé), ex–wife and daughter are glorious caricatures, as is Mehmet, George’s assistant in his stationery and printing shop, not to mention Kumiko – the impossible fantasy of friend, artist and lover.
What will keep you listening and force you to return is the combination of clever, witty prose with elemental, magical imagination. Not intended, I would suggest, to be a profound explanation of what it is to be human, but poignant nonetheless in reminding us that the spiritual and mythological can token magic in even the most ordinary of lives.
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