The secret is out, Richard Flanagan won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. As you might have noticed, I already read some Man Booker Prize long- and shortlisted books this year (but didn’t read Richard Flanagan). The one I’ll be talking about today is Niall Williams‘ longlisted novel History of the Rain. Its cover made me want to read it as soon as I first set eyes on it. Thank you Rupertus Buchhandlung for providing me with a free copy for review.
Synopsis quoted from Bloomsbury UK¹:
We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story…
Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, in the margin between this world and the next, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father. To find him, enfolded in the mystery of ancestors, Ruthie must first trace the jutting jaw lines, narrow faces and gleamy skin of the Swains from the restless Reverend Swain, her great-grandfather, to grandfather Abraham, to her father, Virgil – via pole-vaulting, leaping salmon, poetry and the three thousand, nine hundred and fifty eight books piled high beneath the two skylights in her room, beneath the rain.
The stories – of her golden twin brother Aeney, their closeness even as he slips away; of their dogged pursuit of the Swains’ Impossible Standard and forever falling just short; of the wild, rain-sodden history of fourteen acres of the worst farming land in Ireland – pour forth in Ruthie’s still, small, strong, hopeful voice.
History of the Rain is set in a small town in contemporary Ireland. It is very hard to think of the setting as contemporary because the story could as well be set in the early 20th century. The town is a very small rural town and Niall Williams’ writing gives it a vintage touch. It’s quite shocking when suddenly a modern car winds its way up the road.
Our main character is Ruth Swain, who tells us about her ancestors’ lives. She is a young, intelligent woman bedbound in her family’s home. Ruth tells us a lot about her father Virgil, a great thinker born into a world of doers. Virgil turns out to be a very intense character in the second half of the book. He loves writing so much that he starts to forget everything around him.
History of the Rain has two stories to tell. While Ruth recounts the lives of her ancestors, we observe how Ruth leads her own life. These two plotlines are interwoven and alternate just like two fish taking turns jumping out of the water. The novel is beautifully written and some passages are amazing and create very strong feelings. On the whole, however, History of the Rain very often drags on. I was wondering about this, because the story isn’t boring. I think it was the writing (some very long sentences in there) that made the book tedious to read, at least for me. Nevertheless, History of the Rain is a book that you will enjoy if you’re looking for a novel you can analyze (and reread), because I think there is more to it than I had time to discover.