Book Quote:

“Beatrix could be a selfish person, at times, there was no doubt about that. . .But at the same time, she was quite capable of love.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Danielle Bullen (APR 23, 2009)

The Rain Before it Falls is an elegant, multi-generational saga that draws the reader in with a unique narrative format. Before she died, Rosamund left behind a series of cassettes for her niece, Gil, who must pass them onto someone named Imogen. As Gil listens to the tapes, she and the reader learn of the complicated web that draws together her aunt and the mysterious Imogen.

Rosamund’s talk is inspired by pictures. She chose twenty photos that best captured her life story and describes each one–the subjects, the locale, but more than that, the history behind them. Her story begins at the start of World War Two, when she is six. Like many English children, Rosamund was sent away from the dangers of London to live in the country with her aunt Ivy, uncle Owen, and cousins, including Beatrix, three years older. The bond between Beatrix and Rosamund becomes a monumental force in their lives. Beatrix, desperate for the affection she didn’t get from her mother Ivy,  latches onto her cousin as a kindred spirit, someone similarly lost and lonely. Rosamund describes Beatrix’s relationship with her mother as harsh. “Beatrix’s duty was to remain invisible” and any demand for love was met with indifference.

It is no surprise then that Beatrix marries at age eighteen in what used to be termed a shotgun wedding. Beatrix sees the marriage and her pregnancy as a way to escape her mother. Even at age fifteen, Rosamund senses something is wrong. “It is very apparent. . .that Beatrix and Roger have no future.” She felt sad for her cousin for choosing this disappointing life and frustrated for not knowing how to help her. Beatrix doesn’t want help as she takes matters into her own hands, leaves her husband, and runs away with an Irish gypsy, baby daughter Thea in tow.

As they grow older, Rosamund and Beatrix’s lives remained tangled together. During university, Rosamund falls in love with Rebecca. The two share an apartment under the guise of roommates, trying to avoid gossip. Three years after they flee to Ireland, Beatrix and Thea reappear. Beatrix fell in love with another man and must go to Canada to follow him. Thea needs a place to live. Over Rebecca’s protestations, Rosamund agrees she could live with them. The three women form a little family, shown in the photo Rosamund dubs her favorite, evoking her most cherished memories. Two years later, Beatrix returns with her new husband to reclaim her daughter. Little Thea had become the glue that held the family together. Without her, the women become strangers in the same space. Rebecca writes a note.  “I don’t want to be in this place without her any longer,” and the door closed on that chapter of Rosamund’s life.

The story skips ahead as the photographs become more current. Rosamund visits Beatrix and her family.  She witnesses a horrible fight between mother and daughter, eerily reminiscent of the hatred Beatrix and Ivy had for each other. After the argument, Rosamund comforts Thea and falls asleep in her room. The next day, Beatrix falsely accuses her of something abhorrent and Rosamund leaves. It is the last time the cousins see each other, their once unshakeable bond ripped apart by Beatrix’s insecurity and selfishness.

Thea loses touch with her aunt as she grows up and eventually has her own daughter, Imogen, whom she gives up for adoption. Rosamund thinks, “I still believed reconciliation was possible. . .I could be the one to bring it about.” Her recordings are her attempt to bridge the past and the present, to connect Imogen to the mother and grandmother she never knew.

Author Jonathan Coe’s technique is the most compelling part of the novel. Anyone who has ever looked at old family photos knows the weight they carry.  Stringing together a story based on pictures is clever. Coe’s excellent descriptive skills are evident. It’s almost as if the reader has a copy of these images. They are painstakingly detailed but never overdone.  Effortless is the best way to describe Coe’s writing. It is easy to get drawn into the novel and not realize how much time has passed.

All of the characters are complex, especially Beatrix. While she does some dishonorable things, it is hard to dislike her. Coe creates four sympathetic female characters, where other writers struggle to create one. Any woman will find parts of her relationship with her own female relatives in this saga, which is what makes it compelling. The Rain Before it Falls has much to recommend it. This slim volume packs a deep emotional punch.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 9 reviewers
PUBLISHER: Vintage (March 10, 2009 in PB)
REVIEWER: Danielle Bullen
EXTRAS: Complete Review on Jonathan Coe


April 23, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Unique Narrative, United Kingdom

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