Literary Wives: The Crane Wife, and Why I Didn’t Finish It

Our book club Literary Wives’ most recent read was The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness.

The Crane Wife is a modern spin on an ancient Japanese folktale about a wounded crane that turns into a woman. In Ness’ version, a middle-aged divorced man named George finds a gigantic, wounded crane in his backyard one night. He removes the arrow from the wing and the crane takes off. The next day, a beautiful woman named Kumiko enters his print shop and George falls in love with her. They share their art work and soon begin a relationship.

I didn’t finish the book. I got to page 99 and after a lot of debating back and forth (with myself and with my family) I decided to put it down. These are the reasons why:

1) Bad first impression

Chapter one describes George being jolted out of bed by a loud noise, and meeting the mystical crane in his garden. It starts:

What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself – a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to  move, never to melt – but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder. (page 5)

Honestly, he began to lose me at “bladder.” And I was so in love with all the words preceding that.

On the next page there is a whole paragraph about George completing the urination process, shaking the urine off his penis and drying the tip with tissue. The paragraph following that describes him dropping the tissue into the toilet bowl and flushing it. As the sole female member of my household I am no stranger to male bathroom habits or humor, but this just seemed like TMI to me and completely out of place within the more poetic language on the pages.

2) Bad second impression

The entire second chapter is dialogue with no tags. This is how it opens:

‘But this says Patty.’

‘Yes, that’s what it says here on the order form, too.’

‘Do I look like a Patty to you?’

‘I suppose they could have thought it was for your wife.’

‘My wife is called Colleen.’

‘Well then Patty would have clearly been wrong for her –

(page 19)

??? Chapter 2 is clearly not taking place in George’s bathroom or backyard. It took a little bit of effort for me to figure out who was talking and where. I’ll also admit that I tend to be more conservative when it comes to narrative styles, and by this point I was starting to grumble audibly. I felt the author was trying too hard to be clever.

3) Bad third impression

I probably didn’t go far enough in the book to give Amanda a chance, but I found this woman annoying. Amanda is George’s grown daughter and has a hard time getting along with people. At this point in the book I wasn’t sure what her role was in the story. Ness’ constant use of italics also grated on my nerves (e.g., “Because it wasn’t like that. Well, it was. But it also wasn’t.” page 54)


I kept reading though my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t hate the book and I was somewhat curious as to how George’s relationship with Kumiko would turn out. But  returning to the book each night did begin to feel more like homework, and in a sense it was homework because this was an assignment for our book club. So this is where all my debating started. If I had been reading it simply for myself, I would have put it down. Then I remembered an email conversation that we had as a group following The Zookeeper’s Wife, and someone mentioned that not finishing a book is also telling of the book. I finally decided to stop, and to expend my (limited) energy elsewhere.

Again, I didn’t hate this story. In fact, I appreciated and enjoyed Ness’ lyrical writing style. If I had picked it up at a different point in my life, I probably would have finished it. This book enjoys many superlative reviews from readers so do give it a try if it sounds like something that might be up your alley. In particular, do check out the reviews of my fellow book club members to see what they have to say about the book I couldn’t describe in full!

Ariel of One Little Library 

Carolyn O of Rosemary and Reading Glasses 

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J. 


Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

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17 thoughts on “Literary Wives: The Crane Wife, and Why I Didn’t Finish It

  1. In the past, I might have muddled through a book even though I didn’t like it. As I’ve gotten older, if a book doesn’t hold my interest, I have no issues abandoning it. Based on the scenes you described above, I can understand why this book did not pique your interest. Anytime the reading becomes the wrong kind of work, it is a sign to move forward with a book that engages you.

    I appreciate your candor and honesty in detailing why the book wasn’t the right fit for you.

    • Thank you, Rudri. I have heard similar comments from readers as they get older. At least for me, it took me some years to get out of “school assignment” mode and to understand that not every book needs to be finished. Hardest is when the book that is not grabbing me is also a book that everyone considers a “must read.”

  2. Makes sense to me! Completely understand where you’re coming from. I probably should have put down The Inquisitor’s Wife and The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress instead of pushing through.

  3. I love that you give us examples of where the book went wrong for you. Judging by what I’ve read from everyone else, I think I’ll give this book a pass for now. 🙂

  4. I was annoyed by the bathroom scene as well. I agree with you on all of the reasons and I wish I had quit along with you. Amanda was very annoying. I thought all of the characters were hard to like and really connect with.

  5. Ha! Ha! I had forgotten all about that bathroom scene, Cecilia! I remember now that I simply rolled my eyes and muttered some comment under my breath about men’s obsession with themselves and their “certain body parts”! (Okay, that was not my verbatim thought…but close enough! lol) At the time I wondered if this was some weak attempt to give females a bit of “soft porn” to entertain us? It was definitely weird, but then much of this book was, in my opinion. I agree with Carolyn, in that I found all the characters quite difficult to like and rather obnoxious, even. I had to work to uncover some redeeming qualities within each one, and it did feel like work. I appreciate your honesty, Cecilia, and also love the fact that you were specific in your dislike of this one! Good one!

    • Thank you, Lynn! I really had no idea why the author felt so compelled to go into detail about his night time peeing?! I appreciated your very thoughtful review of the book on your blog, despite not having enjoyed the book all that much!

    • I’m glad it’s not just me! I didn’t want to sound prudish but the other words were so lovely, and then he throws in “bladder”…after reading other people’s posts and comments I am glad I didn’t force myself to finish.

  6. Yes, I think you were right to stop reading. When I’m literally dragging myself through a book, I know it’s time to stop. I liked Amanda better than you did, though. It was the volcano story I couldn’t stand.

    • Thanks Kay. I do wonder if I had gone further in the book if I would have warmed up to Amanda more. Anyway, that one’s done. I *am* looking forward to our next one, as I have been trying to read more poetry lately.

      • I actually liked Amanda okay. It was the myth part that I couldn’t stand, and I don’t know why he had to make George cheat on Kumiko. It was totally unlike him.

  7. It’s too bad it didn’t work out, but I agree with your decision to go with your gut and not finish the book. There are too many good books out there. Might as well focus your energy on something you will enjoy.

  8. I have been debating about this book, too, but I’m not going to pick it up given the multiple negative reviews from the Literary Wives club. It’s disappointing when a book leaves this many bad impressions.

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