Friday, 31 March 2017

History Of The Rain by Niall Williams


History of the Rain by Niall Williams
First published by Bloomsbury in the UK in April 2014.

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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. A celebration of books, love and the healing power of the imagination, this is an exquisite, funny, moving novel in which every sentence sings.

I have Dave to thank for introducing me to the work of Irish writer Niall Williams. He, Dave, downloaded this novel, History Of The Rain, months ago and has since gone on to read and thoroughly enjoy three or four others. I am just starting to catch up and, as you can probably guess from my five star rating, wish I hadn't left this book so long unread.

History Of The Rain is narrated by teenage Ruth, a bedridden Irish girl afflicted by an unknown ailment that is best described early on as Something Puzzling. Ruth uses random capitalisation throughout the book as a means of emphasis and I loved the device. It is never overdone, but is often very humorous and gently sarcastic. From her attic room under a permanently rainy sky (I read the book over a Bank Holiday weekend and so could strongly empathise with the constant rain!), Ruth casts her mind across the history of her family and the lives of her friends and neighbours. In a change from coming-of-age novels, I think of this as more of a coming-to-be storyline. We read about Ruth' parents' courtship and how their ancestry led them to meet, and about Ruth and her brother's childhood in a family where her mother and grandmother worked constantly to keep a roof over their heads while her poet father strived but failed to make a success of their farm.

Williams has a fantastic ear for natural dialogue. This, together with Ruth's familiar narrative style, made it easy for me to believe in the Irish town he has created and its very real people. His descriptions of the homes, surrounding countryside and lifestyles are sharply observed and, although not everything is pleasant, I think the overall effect gives a fascinating portrait of contemporary Ireland. Historical elements gave the novel a sense of timelessness, but inclusion of present-day disasters such as the banking crisis fallout and badly-thought-out political decisions add a modern edge and I liked the contrasts. History Of The Rain isn't a light, fluffy tale of Ireland where everything comes right over a cup of tea at the end. I found some events quite upsetting, although I was then frequently giggling at one of Ruth's turns of phrase within pages. On finishing the story I felt quite bereft and will definitely be picking up another Niall Williams book soon.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Niall Williams / Contemporary fiction / Books from Ireland

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