Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

European Literature Prize 2017

11 September 2017

The jury of the 2017 European Literature Prize has chosen to award the prize to British author Max Porter and his Dutch translator Saskia van der Lingen for Verdriet is het ding met veren (De Bezige Bij), the Dutch translation of the novel Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. The author will receive a sum of €10,000 and the translator €5,000. Chair of the jury, author Anna Enquist will present the prize to Porter and Van der Lingen on Thursday 2 November, during the opening night of the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers tells the story of a young family in London. The mother dies suddenly, leaving the father with his two young sons. Then a crow moves in. It behaves as a busybody, friend, babysitter, consoler and therapist. ‘I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more,’ it tells them. The story takes the form of a prose poem, in short fragments spoken by Dad, the Boys and Crow by turns. Each has a tone very much their own. There are flashbacks and flashforwards, and the style switches between narrative, fairy tale, poetry and sound game, the latter mainly when Crow is speaking. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is indeed in part a homage to the poetry of Ted Hughes.

Jury members praised the ingenuity of the novel, which moves the reader in a highly original way without being sentimental for a moment. They were also impressed by the resourcefulness of the translator, who made use, for example, of the fact that Dutch is rich in bird metaphors. The English ‘Permission to leave’ is translated as ‘Verlof om op te krassen’, literally: permission to caw off. With this prize the jury has chosen to reward an outstanding example of how varied ‘European literature’ can be. It describes the book as ‘a novel you can read five times and discover something new every time’.

Max Porter, cover boek, en Saskia van der Lingen (c) photo Max Porter: Lucy Dickens.

Max Porter (b. 1981) studied art history but soon entered the book business, first as the manager of an independent book shop, which won him the 2009 Young Bookseller of the Year Award, and since 2012 as acquiring editor at Portobello and Granta Books. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, published in English in 2015, is his debut.

Saskia van der Lingen trained as a translator at the University of Amsterdam’s Instituut voor Vertaalwetenschap and has since built up an extensive track record as a translator of literature and art books. From 1993 to 2004 she was involved with the project that resulted in a new translation of the bible into Dutch, the Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling.

European Literature Prize

The other titles nominated for the 2017 European Literature Prize were De melancholie van het verzet by Lászlo Krasznahorkai, translated by Mari Alföldy (Wereldbibliotheek), Schittering by Margaret Mazzantini, translated by Miriam Bunnik and Mara Schepers (Wereldbibliotheek), Swing Time by Zadie Smith, translated by Peter Abelsen (Prometheus) and Ons soort mensen by Juli Zeh, translated by Annemarie Vlaming (Ambo/Anthos).

This year the jury was made up of chair Anna Enquist, author Niña Weijers, booksellers Janna Navis (Dominicanen, Maastricht) and Lilian Zielstra (Godert Walter, Groningen), and translator Rob Gerritsen (ELP winner 2016).

The seventh European Literature Prize, for the best European novel published in Dutch translation over the past year, will be presented to the author and translator on Thursday 2 November 2017. Previous winners were Marie NDiaye and translator Jeanne Holierhoek for Drie sterke vrouwen, Julian Barnes and translator Ronald Vlek for Alsof het voorbij is, Emmanuel Carrère and translators Katelijne De Vuyst and Katrien Vandenberghe for Limonov, Jérôme Ferrari and translators Jan Pieter van der Sterre and Reintje Ghoos for De preek over de val van Rome, Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Elly Schippers for Een handvol sneeuw, and Sandro Veronesi and translator Rob Gerritsen for Zeldzame aarden.

The European Literature Prize is an initiative of the Dutch Foundation for Literature, academic-cultural centre SPUI25, weekly De Groene Amsterdammer and Athenaeum Booksellers. It is financed by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Lira Fund and the De Delancey and De la Hanty Foundation.


Download images

Peter Bergsma


Peter Bergsma

Director Amsterdam Translators’ House