The crane wife : a novel

Patrick Ness, who has been writing marvelous young adult fiction for several years now, has written his first adult novel, The Crane Wife, and it's a lovely book.

George is a middle-aged divorced man who runs a small printing shop in London. He’s a quiet, pleasant man, the sort you wouldn’t notice if you passed him on the street. That affability is starting to work against him, though; he’s so genially low-key that he doesn’t inspire much passion in anyone (or have much passion about anything), and women rarely get beyond seeing him as a good friend.

That bland life gets a lot more lively in the opening scene of The Crane Wife, when George is awakened by a noise in the garden. He finds a large crane, wounded with an arrow through its wing. George manages to remove the arrow and the crane flies off.

With that scene straight out of Japanese folklore, Ness places us in the realm of myth, dream, and fairy tale; the novel is a British variation on magical realism. When George’s shop is visited the next day by a mysterious woman, he quickly realizes that Kumiko is not exactly what she seems. What exactly she is, though, remains something of a mystery. That mystery, and Kumiko's refusal to talk about her past, continues to frustrate George even as the two become romantically involved.

They also become artistic partners. Kumiko begins adding George's paper cutouts to her more elaborate pieces constructed of cut feathers, and the combination of the two gives the pieces an emotional force that makes them an overnight sensation on the London art scene.

George's daughter, Amanda, hovers for a long time at the edges of the story; like her father, she feels like a perpetual outsider, unable to figure out the rules that would allow her to fit in with her co-workers. It's only with her young son that Amanda is ever truly at ease.

Ness does a superb job of keeping the story grounded in our world; things feel realistic and believable even in the story's more fantastic and lyrical moments. The characters are vivid; the dialogue is convincing; the emotions run deep and true. The Crane Wife is a moving fable about love and the astounding power of forgiveness.