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What we’re reading pt. 18

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Blackly humorous, heartrending and delightfully compact, this is one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read. Following the sudden death of his wife, a young Ted Hughes scholar and his two small sons are confronted with the stunning mundanity of their grief. ‘There should be men in helmets speaking a new and dramatic language of crisis. There should be horrible levels of noise, completely foreign and inappropriate for our cosy London flat. There were no crowds and no uniformed strangers and there was no new language of crisis. We stayed in our PJs and people visited and gave us stuff.’

The narrative is voiced interchangeably by Dad, the boys and their grief counsellor: a crow who shows up at the door one evening, picks the father up and says ‘I won’t leave until you don’t need me anymore.’ Crow is a confidant, trickster and antagonist, a manifestation of the father’s grieving psyche, who helps his charges navigate their sorrow, with shockingly hilarious detours.

Good for: This small, sad and strange book illuminates the themes of love, loss, art and the fallibility of memory with a feather-light touch.

– Michaela McGuire, Artistic Director


Tourmaline by Randolph Stow

I first read Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline in August of last year, and by the time summer rolled around I was ready to revisit it. It’s an extraordinary book: full of vividly rendered imagery and the poetry of landscape. The story takes place in a once prosperous mining town in the Western Australian desert that has fallen into a state of hauntedness: ‘It is a town of corrugated iron’, writes Stow, ‘and in the heat the corrugations shimmer and twine, strangely immaterial.’ The town is populated by a cast of oddities who we meet through the remembrances of the unnamed narrator, referred to only as the Law. The town’s coma-like existence is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger, the curiously named Michael Random — a man who claims to be a water-diviner and who the townsfolk greet as a kind of messiah.

Stow’s writing is spare and beautifully crafted; deeply melancholic and underscored by longing. It’s a strange sort of book; one that unfolds a little like a heatstroke-induced fever dream and leaves an indelible impression. Read it now, ahead of its upcoming film adaption to be written and directed by Rachel Ward.

Read it: Slowly, and with your full attention. Stow’s mesmerising use of language demands it.

– Nadia Bailey, Digital Marketing Coordinator