This may be an oddly specific collection of books: stories in which a loved one dies and the protagonist is aided in dealing with their grief by an animal, but somehow I read three of them in a short space of time.
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
The title of this book is a reference to Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers” which portrays hope as a small bird in your soul that will always persevere. (Full poem and review here.) In Grief Is The Thing With Feathers the mother/wife of the protagonists dies and the father and his two young children are left behind. One evening the father opens the door and a massive crow comes in to help take care of the children.
The book is a spellbinding hybrid between a novel and a poem (well, if that doesn’t sound like a cover-quote I don’t know what does), with short, striking sentences and a good dose of magical realism. Porter very accurately captures the feelings of loss, desolation and emptiness of both the father and the children, which made me cry buckets and buckets (no exaggeration). It’s not at all a happy book, but very therapeutic.
A Great Dane
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
The narrator’s closest friend and mentor has committed suicide and leaves her his enormous dog, Apollo, even though she doesn’t like dogs that much, nor is she allowed to keep them in her apartment. However, as time goes on she grows more and more fond of Apollo and he helps her make sense of some of her feelings of loss and sorrow.
Like the author, the narrator is part of the New York literary scene, and she makes many interesting & witty remarks on reading and writing books that by themselves alone make the book well worth picking up. On a more critical note, my grandfather (who I borrowed this from) and I agree that the first half is the best, which is a shame. It starts very strong but then slows down a bit and becomes rather predictable and sentimental. Admittedly though, he and I are both cat-people, so perhaps that makes us a bit biased where dog-love is concerned.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
This book is the most analytical of the three. After Macdonald’s father dies she picks up an old hobby and starts training a young goshawk she calls Mabel. What follows are very detailed descriptions of what it is like to train and fly a bird of prey and many musings on isolating yourself/ becoming ‘wilder’ when you’re grieving vs sharing it with other people.
I really appreciate that this protagonist doesn’t immediately find her pet or start dealing with her grief but blunders around a bit first. Though I think most of us know grief isn’t something that can be dealt with within a few months and that recovery isn’t linear either, many other stories do seem to imply that.
This book is touching, but it isn’t a tear-jerker. It’s power lies more in portraying bleakness and emptiness than stabbing hurt. Its plot moves slowly but that isn’t really what it’s about. It is more about the development of MacDonald’s relationship with her hawk and all of her thoughts about it than what they actually get up to. I never thought I’d ever learn this much about falconry, but it’s an interesting ride.
How about you? Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you know any other books in this category? I’d love to hear your thoughts!