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Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter review – words take flight

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Longlisted for the Guardian first book award, this moving story of a widower and his young sons becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and Ted Hughes

Oh, the look of a book! Whether a novel’s weight and the appearance of its typeface indicate the heft of traditional narrative ambition or a lighter, more poetic hesitancy and compression; whether we see block text and the roll call of chapters marching down a table of contents or lots of white space and a glancing, ragged-looking assemblage of pages: the feel and appearance of the story we hold in our hands has a huge influence on our reading expectations.

Not every writer is interested in these kinds of distinctions, of course, but Max Porter certainly is. His Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is the most exquisite little flight of a story captured between hardback covers, and its appearance has been crafted to show us that we are in for something unusual. This deeply moving book about death and its grief-stricken consolations – love and art – appears to be no more than a scattering of text, dialogue and poetry that lifts and settles on the page, the frailest sort of thing. Yet as we read on, we become aware that the way it has been put together is robust indeed.

Today I got back to work.

I managed half an hour and then

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