The Broken Mirror by Jonathan Coe

A fable for all ages about a mirror which reflects an alternative world

The Broken Mirror

Unbound|November 2017|81 pages|Library book|4*

The Broken Mirror was first published in Italian in 2012. It is a collaboration between novelist Jonathan Coe and Chiara Coccorese, an Italian artist, and is described as ‘a political parable for children, a contemporary fairy tale for adults, and a fable for all ages.. It’s published by Unbound, a publishing house funded directly by readers  

The hardback book is lovely to hold and the coloured illustrations are beautiful. It tells the story of Claire, a little girl of eight, who finds a fragment of a broken mirror in a rubbish dump behind her house. This is no ordinary mirror, as what she sees reflected in it is a beautiful world so unlike the real world around her. It’s a world full of colour, where her house is transformed into a castle, just like the sandcastle she had built at the beach on holiday – a fairy tale world, so much more exciting and magical than the real world. As Claire’s father remarks, Claire lives in a dream world.

By the time Claire reaches her teens she doesn’t look in the mirror as often. But she is dissatisfied with her life and, seeing her home town being spoilt by property developers and how badly immigrants are treated, she begins to look into it more and more, where she sees a better way of life. Then Claire meets other people who also have a fragment of broken mirror  – she is not alone with her dreams of a better world.

It is well written and I enjoyed reading it. Coe shows a society in crisis and how it might be improved. It’s a simple story, simply told but presenting important issues, ending with the possibility of a better future.

Library Loans

These are just some of the books I’ve recently borrowed from the library:

Library bks April 2019

  • The Broken Mirror by Jonathan Coe, Illustrations by Chiara Coccorese. This little book looked a bit out of place on the adult fiction shelves so I picked it up and the blurb on the back cover made me even more curious – ‘a political parable for children, a contemporary fairy tale for adults, and a fable for all ages.’ It shouldn’t take me long to read – 81 pages, including the illustrations – so I hope to write more about it soon.
  • The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida with an introduction by David Mitchell. Naoki was only thirteen when he wrote this book. I’m sure I’ve read about this book somewhere, but I can’t think where or in what context, but I think that was why this book caught my eye.
  • After the Party by Cressida Connolly, historical fiction as Phyllis looks back at her life during World War Two. This is a book several bloggers have written about and I thought I’d like to read it. It’s on this year’s shortlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction along with A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey,  The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller. I’ve read the last two and enjoyed them both.
  • Faithful Place by Tana French. I couldn’t come away from the library without a crime fiction novel – this is the third  book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s a psychological mystery focusing on the police force set in present day Dublin.

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe: Book Review

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.

Teaser Tuesday – The Rain Before It Falls

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingShare a couple or more sentences from the book you’re currently reading.

For today’s teaser I’ve chose this from The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe. I recently borrowed this book from the library and have only read  the opening page just to see if it appealed. It does. It begins with Gill and Stephen, her husband outside raking leaves and shovelling them onto a bonfire when the telephone rang. Gill ran inside to answer it and then went back into the garden:

Stephen turned as he heard her approach. He saw bad news in her eyes, and his thoughts flew, at once, to their daughters: to the imagined dangers of central London, to bombs, to once-routine tube and bus journeys suddenly turned into wagers with life and death. (page 1)

Now, I just have to read more …