Patrick Ness has made a well-deserved name for himself in the realm of young adult fiction, where he’s crafted magical tales full of sensitivity and raw emotional energy. With The Crane Wife, he brings all of those talents to a story for adults, and the result is a viscerally beautiful, subtly magical and instantly memorable realistic fairy tale that will linger in your brain.

A mysterious woman brings romance into the life of a staid shopkeeper in this magical new novel.

George Duncan has carved out a sensible if predictable life for himself as an American in London. He owns a small print shop, stays close to his adult daughter Amanda and her young son, and has an amicable relationship with his ex-wife. George’s world is stable and unremarkable, until the night a large crane with an arrow through its wing shows up in his back garden. When the crane is freed of the weapon that wounded it and flies away, George thinks he’s experienced a momentary upset, but he’s about to experience so much more. The very next day, a woman named Kumiko appears in his shop asking for help with her art: a series of beautiful tiles covered in images that seem to be made from delicately woven feathers. What begins as a curious attraction blossoms into a romance, and George and his entire family are forever changed by Kumiko’s presence, even as the lingering mystery of who she really is persists in George’s mind.

Ness’ way of constructing a story on a sentence level is particularly fascinating in this novel. He lets whole pages go by with nothing but brisk and believable dialogue, using narration and internal monologue only when necessary. The result is a character-driven book that never feels slow or overstuffed with personal detail. The same technique also serves to almost instantly immerse the reader in these characters, and that creates a special kind of magic.

While The Crane Wife never dives headlong into the supernatural, there is a spell that Ness is casting here, a sense of romance and myth and life-altering circumstance that other realistic novelists just don’t have. This is the story of a group of people transformed by their connections to each other, and in his own particular way, Ness transforms the reader, too. 

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