Monday, 30 November 2009

The Rain Before It Falls (Jonathan Coe)

--The blurb--
"In the latest from acclaimed London novelist Coe (The Rotters' Club), the story of two cousins' friendship is key to a hatred that is handed down from mother to daughter across generations, as in a Greek tragedy. Evacuated from London to her aunt and uncle's Shropshire farm, Rosamond bonds with her older cousin, Beatrix, who is emotionally abused by her mother. Beatrix grows up to abuse her daughter, Thea, with repercussions that reach the next generation. All of this is narrated in retrospect by an elderly Rosamond into a tape recorder: she is recording the family's history for Imogen, Beatrix's granddaughter, who is blind, and whom Rosamond hasn't seen in 20 years. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Rosamond's fundamental flaw and limit is her decency, a quality Coe weaves beautifully into the Shropshire and London settings — along with violence."

--The review--
Coe's literary history shows him to be a diverse and successful author: while he has one adapted-for-television series under his belt in the form of The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle, he knew to quit while he was ahead and moved onto other equally accomplished novels that also became best-sellers. The Rain Before It Falls is no different: it is evolutionary, revolutionary, experimental, and emotional - so, in short, a real tour de force for Coe that shows no sign of deceleration or decline.

While the cast of characters and the connections between them are initially overwhelming, it is this along with the novel's non-linear, almost epistolary format, that helps to keep you on your toes until these things become more familiar. Once these aspects have slotted seamlessly into the background of the reader's mind, it is the pace and suspense created by the tenacity of the plot that keep the reader hooked and make this novel into a sure-fire winner. If there is a weakness, it is in Coe's link between the title and his text: at times it feels strained and contrived, and it is always less effective when the reader is told how to interpret the title through the text, rather than just being left to work it out for themselves.

Coe certainly meets his challenge in not only being able to portray the speech and thoughts of characters of several different generations, but also recreates realistic female voices, which is not to be underestimated given the notorious difficulties inherent in writing as the opposite sex. He even meets this criterion consistently in the protagonist, Rosamond, whose voice is the one that readers hear for the majority of the book. The ending is quietly dramatic while remaining somehow fitting; the threads of the novel are easily traceable without being predictable, and all is well tied up. And despite the decisive conclusions that are drawn, one wants to read and reread The Rain Before it Falls, in order to keep on unwrapping its various layers, and to know the characters so intimately that they are almost friends - something that Coe always achieves masterfully.

Other works by Jonathan Coe
The Accidental Woman (1987)
A Touch of Love (1989)
The Dwarves of Death (1990)
What A Carve Up! (1994)
The House of Sleep (1997)
The Rotters' Club (2001)
The Closed Circle (2004)
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim (2010)

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