BOOKS Su­per­nat­u­ral does not jell with the re­al­is­tic

The Crane Wife a com­edy of mod­ern man­ners

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - IAN MCGIL­LIS

He­roes don’t come much less con­ven­tion­ally heroic than Ge­orge Dun­can, the cen­tral fig­ure in Pa­trick Ness’s new novel. A 48-year-old Amer­i­can di­vorcee liv­ing in Lon­don, Ge­orge is a man whose life prac­ti­cally il­lus­trates the words “mud­dling along.”

His once grand aca­demic am­bi­tions re­duced to run­ning a print shop, Ge­orge is liked by all but not the sort to in­spire a lot of pas­sion.

“You’re about sixty-five per cent,” his ex-wife had said as she left him. “And I think sev­enty is prob­a­bly my min­i­mum.”

Then, one win­ter night, a wounded crane lands in his gar­den, one wing pierced by an ar­row. Ge­orge ex­tracts the ar­row and frees the bird, and soon af­ter­ward a be­guil­ing woman named Ku­miko steps into his life, ap­pear­ing to of­fer a new shot at love and re­demp­tion.

Ness, win­ner of mul­ti­ple awards for his chil­dren’s and YA fic­tion, has been in­spired by the an­cient Ja­panese folk tale of the crane wife, and takes his epi­graph from the al­bum of the same name by the De­cem­berists.

(In his ac­knowl­edg­ments he calls the Port­land group “the great­est band in the world.”)

It would ap­pear to be the per­fect source ma­te­rial for a writer whose flair for the mag­i­cal and su­per­nat­u­ral has served him so well in his writ­ing for younger read­ers, but alas, those el­e­ments never re­ally jell with the re­al­is­tic in his sec­ond adult-di­rected novel.

Aviary folk myth aside, a fine mod­ern com­edy of man­ners is em­bed­ded in The Crane Wife. Ness, an Amer­i­can who lives in Eng­land, proves him­self a deft and in­sight­ful chron­i­cler of the transat­lantic cul­ture gulf.

The di­a­logue, es­pe­cially in the scenes be­tween Ge­orge’s an­gry adult daugh­ter Amanda and her catty work friends Ruth and Mei, jumps off the page and is fre­quently hi­lar­i­ous. Lonely peo­ple ne­go­ti­at­ing alien­at­ing ur­ban spa­ces are rarely so sym­pa­thet­i­cally and con­vinc­ingly por­trayed.

The trou­ble comes as the fan- tas­ti­cal in­creas­ingly en­ters the frame: I found my­self think­ing that it would have been nice to see th­ese all-too-hu­man char­ac­ters try to work out their is­sues un­der real-life con­di­tions, with­out the aid/in­ter­fer­ence of mytho­log­i­cal bird women.

There, then, lies the crux. Ku­miko, the novel’s cat­a­lyst, is a woman to whom peo­ple are al­ways say­ing things like “You are so hard to know.” Enigma is one thing, but over the course of a novel elu­sive­ness can grow irk­some. Is Ku­miko the crane in hu­man form? Would that ex­plain her odd flat­ness as a char­ac­ter in such an oth­er­wise well-drawn cast?

Mehmet, Ge­orge’s Turk­ish em­ployee at the print shop and the provider of many of the novel’s best comic mo­ments, may well speak for more than a few read­ers when he asks Ge­orge, “This isn’t some mys­te­ri­ous al­lure of the East thing you’ve got with this woman, is it?”

Even though Ge­orge fol­lows with a zinger — “You’re from the East, Mehmet, and I find you nei­ther mys­te­ri­ous nor al­lur­ing” — the ques­tion lingers longer than it should.

As the re­al­is­tic gives way more and more to the al­le­gor­i­cal, The Crane Wife runs into some prob­lem­atic thick­ets of plot and tone. The shifts are strained, the con­nec­tions over-ex­plained, the struc­tur­ing too schematic and there are far too many dream de­scrip­tions.

There’s a lot to rec­om­mend in The Crane Wife — sen­tence by sen­tence, Ness is a plea­sure to read but — as much as it pains this book purist to say it — this is one novel that might ac­tu­ally prove bet­ter suited to the big screen than to the page. Pa­trick Ness HarperColl­ins

Deb­bie Smyth

Pa­trick Ness proves him­self a deft and in­sight­ful chron­i­cler of the transat­lantic cul­ture gulf.

The Crane Wife

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.