A Book Review: ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter

Death is one of the most prevalent, most renowned and most terrifying themes in all of literature. From the ghost of Hamlet’s father, all the way to the death of Dumbledore, the introduction of death can be a game-changer in any story, for both the characters and readers.

And rightly so: Death is the ultimate end. An event every human will face, regardless of race or upbringing. Of all the big questions, our own demise is one which has fascinated us for generations, both the event itself and consequences of its presence.

Yet Grief is the Thing with Feathers is about more than death. It’s about even more than grief. This poetry collection / lyrical novella is about hope, happiness and love – in all of their horrid, selfish glory.


After the sudden death of his wife, a father struggles to raise his two boys.

Two boys, after the sudden death of their mother, grow up with only their grief-stricken father to guide them.

A crow – a symbol, a trickster, a babysitter, a friend – soon moves into their home. He will stay there until the family no longer need him.

Part poetry, part novel, part essay, the book follows the story of this broken family in their small London flat, as they try to repair the hole left in the wake of death.

Why do I love this book?

I could mention the wonderful use of poetic devices in this collection. I could highlight the intertextual references to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath with a literary nod and wink. I could talk about how the poems are all divided into the respective characters (the father, the sons and the Crow) and are able to illustrate their perspectives in distinct, engaging ways.

I won’t mention any of these things, however. While these were aspects which I admired, there was only one thing which made me completely fall in love with this book.

It made me cry.

Art by Jferguson757

I can count the number of family members I have on both hands and still have two fingers left over. I have no cousins, no long lost brothers or aunts. We’re a small family, but I’ve never thought it strange. We’re close. We look out for each other in any way that we can.

When I was sixteen, in the midst of my GCSE’s, I lost my grandfather. It was the first family member to pass away and it hit us all like a ton of bricks. Our tightly knit family had lost one of its threads and it hurt. It still hurts – even writing about it is like scratching an old scar.

In stories surrounding a death like this – a close loved one, a family member – it is so easy to focus on ‘Death as Pain.’ The suffering, the anguish, the high emotions, the irrational behaviour, the anger and confusion, the nights consumed by self-pity.

I won’t deny that these are aspects of the experience. And I can’t speak for everyone’s reaction to the loss of a loved one. But for me, and for the book, the most painful part of losing someone is the gradual acceptance. It grows on you, whether you want it to or not. The world becomes a world without them and, sooner or later, that becomes your new normal.

It’s this feeling of helplessly moving on that grips the book from start to finish; this is the emotion which drew me in and never let me go.

In Conclusion

I’d go on to finish my GCSEs. I’d then go to univeristy. To this day, I am still dreaming, hoping, working, breathing, laughing, playing, loving, joking, and it feels like the most selfish thing in the world and the most beautiful thing I can do for my grandfather. I carry on in a world without him, because I know he’d want me to.

Grief is the thing with Feathers brought these revelations back in full force. Reading this book brought back that teenage girl inside of me and made her cry. And when all the tears had been dried away, when I read the final pages, it felt as the though the book sat down beside me, took my heart into the crook of its wing and whispered:

“Look at this. How ugly it is. How small.

Isn’t it horrible?

Isn’t it sickening?

Isn’t it wonderful?”


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