Literary Wives: The Crane Wife

The Crane WifeHappy June! This month the Literary Wives are talking about The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. Please read the other reviews of this book from Audra, Emily, Carolyn, Cecilia, Kay, and Lynn!

I was really excited to read this book, and it is fantastic—but it’s not the greatest for our literary wives discussion.

One night middle-aged George Duncan hears a heartrending keening in his backyard and finds a crane with an arrow piercing its wing. He helps the crane, and the next day a beautiful woman named Kumiko walks into his little print shop. George’s hobby is making book cuttings, and he soon discovers that he and Kumiko have that in common. Her creations are fierce, but she insists that his cuttings complete the picture. They start dating and making cuttings together. Soon George is hopelessly in love.

But Kumiko is mysterious: where did she come from? Kumiko is a Japanese name, but no one is sure of her nationality. She doesn’t work; where does she get her money? Who was her family? Despite refusing to answer all of George’s personal questions, she agrees to marry him.

Woven throughout the narrative is a second story: a folktale told in thirty-two parts. In this story, a lady is born and flies throughout all of creation offering forgiveness by plunging her fingers into people’s hearts. While the earth is forming, she meets a volcano who is different from the other volcanoes. Volcanoes are angry, bent on destroying so that new things can be created. This volcano tries to destroy her, but can’t. They are in love, but their natures are opposed. As he goes around destroying, she follows behind forgiving and healing (don’t ask me how killing people is forgiving or healing, but in this story it happens). Eventually, after wars and destruction, he begs her to “forgive” him, but she can’t. He fires an arrow, and she falls to the earth…

I don’t really understand it all, but the book is written beautifully. I’ll try to talk about the wifey aspect of it.


In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Ok, this one has me really stumped. When the volcano starts a fire in George’s house in another attempt to destroy his beloved crane, Kumiko helps George escape the burning house, knowing exactly what is going on. But she doesn’t realize at first that George’s daughter, Amanda, also enters the burning house to find her father. When she does realize that Amanda is in the house, it’s too late. Amanda is doomed. But Kumiko replaces Amanda’s heart with her own, sacrificing her own life to save her.

What does this say about how Kumiko saw her role as a wife? Not sure, but I know that she saw self-sacrifice as a form of love, and I’m sure that has something to do with it.

So I’m punting to my fellow literary wives reviewers, and you readers.

What do you think about this? I loved Ness’s writing and the mystical story, but I’m having trouble connecting this one to wifehood. Honestly, I’m ok with this. Not all books about wives are about marriage or wifehood. But I’d be curious to know if anyone else found any connections.

Please share!

On another note, I apologize that my posts have been so sparse lately. My life has been extremely hectic the last few months with work. On top of that, we’re moving yet again! But I do have more posts lined up, including one on my absolute favorite book ever, Jane Eyre!! But coming next, a review of Lucky Us, which publishes this August.


  1. says

    I couldn’t really connect it to our discussion of what it means to be a wife, either. I teased out a few themes that sort of apply in my post, but this was a tough one. And I didn’t like the writing like you did, so it made it even harder for me to appreciate.

  2. says

    I agree with Kay. I’m with you, Ariel, that it’s fine that the book relates to the LW questions only tangentially. I was thinking, actually, that this book might be good for book groups considering work-life balance and what it means to be a working mother. But maybe that’s just me — Amanda was my favorite character.

  3. says

    So, I rarely consider someone only as a “wife” or “husband” or whatever, if they are officially/legally married. Perhaps that makes it easier for me, because I’m always just evaluating and trying to understand relationships, no matter the “roles” involved? I felt Kumiko was very good for George. I doubt he would have ever used his creative energy or made much money if not for Kumiko. She truly gave him something to believe in and live for, in my opinion; she opened him up to life in many ways, I thought. For me, the main message was about obsession/possession within relationships. I’m glad you liked Amanda, Carolyn, personally I was shocked and appalled at her rendezvous with her ex…yuck!! (But that’s just my own personal life experience…) What did rather fascinate me that I didn’t mention much in my review was the role of ex-spouses; I thought that was interesting. Muddled is a nice description…

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