The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness casts a spell with its use of magical realism. Set in modern day England, it appears to be a realistic story, but incorporates elements like shape-shifting, that are more often seen in fantasy and myth.  George Duncan owns a moderately successful printing shop in London.  It is his misfortune to be such a nice guy that women are attracted to him, but eventually move on to someone more interesting, leaving him quite lonely.  One night he finds an injured crane and sees that it has an arrow through its wing.  He carefully removes the arrow and the crane flies away.  The next day a lovely, but mysterious woman named Kumiko arrives at his shop.  She is an artist and they find that when she adds some of his paper cuttings to her artwork, people are so moved by the results they will pay huge sums of money to own one of their panels.  George is soon smitten with Kumiko and together they start working on a set of panels inspired by a tale that Kumiko begins to tell.  It is a tale of long lasting love and terrible anger that may reveal Kumiko’s secrets.

If this story sounds a bit familiar up to this point, it may be because it is patterned after the Japanese folktale of the crane wife.  In the folktale, a poor man finds an injured crane and nurses it back to health.  When the crane leaves, a beautiful woman comes to his door and they marry.  She weaves beautiful silks in secret, making them rich.  The man becomes greedy and peeks in to see his wife weaving.  He is surprised to see that she is weaving a bit of herself, her feathers, into the silk.  The crane sees him and flies away, never to return.  Ness expands upon this tale, using it to tell us about the nature of loneliness, forgiveness, and love in this entrancing novel.

Fans of magical realism might also enjoy Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen or Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

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