Review | The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

An oddly enchanting mixture of the mythic and mundane. I doubt you’ll have read anything else quite like this. 4/5 stars.

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness book cover

The blurb: The extraordinary happens every day…

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed.

The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story.

Wise, romantic, magical and funny, The Crane Wife is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

My take (being as vague as possible to avoid spoilers):

This is a strange mix of the mythical and mundane. My advice: don’t think too hard about what’s going on when you read The Crane Wife. Don’t try to figure out what’s real, what’s not, what’s magic/metaphorical. Just let the brilliant writing flow over you and enjoy the weird and wonderful experience that is this book.

The characters are a sympathetic, intriguing and diverse group. I wanted to know how things would turn out for them and worried about their welfare. And there’s so much going on in terms of content and tone. At times deeply insightful and moving, at others lighthearted and funny, it takes a writer as skilled as Ness to weave so many different elements together into a slightly odd, but nonetheless enchanting whole.

As a writer, I was also envious of his use of dialogue-only chapters. This is something I’m sure they only let you get away with when you’re an established author. Because when I say “dialogue-only” I mean just speech and nothing else. Let me show you what I mean with an example I made up:

“Dad! I told you not to call me at work.”

“I know, love. And I’m sorry to bother you, but it’s really quite important.”

“Are you ok? Thanks, just leave that there. Thanks. Uf, sorry, Dad. Christie just brought me that performance evaluation I’ve been waiting months for. Are you ok? Is Mum ok?

“Yes, love. Everything’s fine. I was just calling to say ‘Happy Christmas’ and see if you had any plans this year.”


“Sally? Are you still there?”

“Yes, Dad.”



“Oh, love, please don’t cry.”

Just to say again: I wrote that, it’s not from the book (although I doubt anyone could mistake my scribblings for Ness’ work!). I stupidly returned the book to the library before copying out an excerpt. D’oh!

I would love to write dialogue-only chapters like this. The number of times I’ve come back to a draft to find whole scenes written practically like this and notes to myself saying, “IS THIS CONVERSATION HAPPENING IN A VACUUM, CLAIRE?!!” Which is my shouty way of reminding myself to mention what the characters are doing and where they are as they’re talking.

Ness scatters these chapters throughout the book to give the reader a break, but they’re remarkable exercises in revealing context and character through nothing more than “spoken” words. Amazing.

Overall: if you’re intrigued by the blurb, read this book; I doubt you’ll be disappointed. If, however, the blurb makes you shudder, this probably isn’t one for you. And if you fall somewhere in between? Borrow it from your library and give it a try ๐Ÿ™‚

Have you read The Crane Wife? Are you a fellow Patrick Ness fan? Please use the comments to let me know!

Claire Huston / Art and Soul

18 thoughts on “Review | The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

  1. Good review. I’m still having a stare-off with More Than This. There’s this whole “MUST read it!” and “I’ve loved Ness’ other work!” waging war against “But…the first 75 pages just weren’t that interesting, and you have World War Moo to read, too!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would say to start with A Monster Calls. It’s fairly short and if you think it’s good then you’re likely to enjoy the rest of his work. If not, at least you won’t have wasted a lot of time (I have to disclose that I think a Monster Calls is the best thing he’s written, but other opinions are available!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 30th December 2015 | Art and Soul

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