These days I seem to be choosing books by their titles as well as by their authors. And it was a combination of both that drew me to The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe. I knew of the author, although this is the first book of his that I’ve read and I couldn’t imagine what the title means, which seemed a good enough reason at the time to borrow the book from the library.
I wasn’t disappointed. The Rain Before It Falls is full of description, which for me is a good thing; descriptions of people, places and events. It is a story within a story as Gill discovers family secrets she never knew before, after her aunt Rosamond died. Rosamond left half her property to her cousin’s granddaughter Imogen and half to Gill, but no one knows very much about Imogen or her whereabouts. Rosamond has recorded tapes for Imogen telling her about her mother and grandmother through describing a number of photographs (Imogen is blind) and asked Gill to find her.
It’s a story of tragedy as Rosamond describes the relationship she had with her cousin, Beatrix, who had abandoned her own daughter, Thea and the effects this had on all three of them and subsequently on Imogen. The predominant theme is of the inevitability of impending tragedy, although there are moments when happiness seems within reach. At one point the child Thea states she likes the rain before it falls, even though Rosamond points out to her that there is no such thing. Thea responds that, that is why she likes it, saying,
Something can make you happy can’t it, even if it isn’t real? (page 162)
Gill looks in vain for a pattern that makes sense of their lives but realises that it never existed – it was like the rain before it falls , a ‘figment, a dream, an impossible thing.’ (page 278)
There is much that appealed to me in this book, not least the little philosophical thoughts, such as the reflection on watching children squabble over simple things like where to sit at the dinner table or in the back of the car (so true to life):
Endless, small-minded territorial disputes. You could understand the whole, sorry history of human warfare just by observing their behaviour for half an hour. (page 182)
I also like the references to the novel Gone to Earth. Rosamond and Beatrix were extras when the book was filmed in Much Wenlock near to their family home in 1950. Rosamond describes the book as
… an overheated rustic melodrama … the story of an ignorant country girl who marries the village chaplain but meanwhile gets caught up in a torrid affair with the local squire, while quite sensibly preferring her pet fox to either of them. … at the time I loved it, for being rooted in the Shropshire landscape, saturated with the colours and contours of its hills and the author’s feeling for nature is still what I remember best. (page 102)
I too, had read and loved Gone to Earth by Mary Webb, many times as a young teenager, completely absorbed in the story and loving its descriptions of the countryside. I’ll read it again one day.