All stories begin before they start and never, ever finish.

When an injured crane lands in George’s garden in the middle of the night, he is compelled to help the beautiful creature. A few days later, Kumiko walks into his shop and shows him her artwork made of feathers. George, who has been making cut-outs from old books, is instantly smitten with the mysterious woman and her pictures. Together they create something breath-taking.

I am in two minds about this book. I do think Patrick Ness is an excellent writer and there were parts of the story I absolutely loved. There are sections of beautifully written prose; even the introductory scene of George going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is done eloquently. Where George tends to the injured bird is surprisingly real and tender and I loved the central myth, rewriting the story with a volcano as the antagonist.

The crane wife comes from Japanese mythology and is a story of a crane that is found in a trap. A man takes pity on her and frees her only to be visited by a beautiful woman the next day. The couple take her in and she soon starts to weave cloth, a cloth of the highest standards which brings the couple a good price at market. But she weaves in secret and the couple soon become curious, of course learning her true identity. Ness’ story deviates a lot from this, but Kumiko’s pictures replace the cloth, and George is a lonely divorcee in place of the couple.

However, there are moments when I struggled to engage with the book. We are introduced to the starring characters separately, which is fine in itself, but the chapters felt like individual stories. I’m still none the wiser why George’s near horrific car accident was included in such depth. And I didn’t like the negativity between Amanda and her co-workers. Do women really need to be that hostile to each other? It was too much for me, making them feel like stereotypes. Is Amanda meant to be a tragic character or just a pawn to be in the right place at the right time? Rachel’s behaviour might be explained by the end, but the way it was done didn’t make me empathise with any of the characters.

It reminded me a little of Andrew Kaufman’s novels in places and I would be more inclined to recommend to fans of his quirky little books than existing Ness fans. It would probably sit well within the Canongate Myths series too. The characters feel a little bit like George’s cut out shapes, which work in a myth where character traits are often represented by other things, but the realism cut through the charm of the myth.

Ness justifies the loose ends by saying stories never end, but I’m afraid the book was a bit of a disappointment for me after such high expectations.

The Crane Wife is published by Canongate and be available from 4th April 2013 in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Dog Ear Discs | Robin’s Books
Patrick Ness on the You Wrote The Book podcast

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.