The Rain Before It Falls

Last time I read a Coe novel, I was disappointed with it. So this one sat on the to be read shelves for a couple of years.

The Rain Before It Falls
Jonathan Coe
(Penguin, 2008)

When Gill’s Aunt Rosamond dies she leaves behind a bequest for the mysterious Imogen, a blind girl Gill once met at a party in the 1980s. In attempting to track the girl down, Gill discovers a family history of maternal disfunction and a branch of her family tree she never knew before. And then, finally, a letter arrives…

This is a story within a story. Rosamond left behind a shoebox of photos and some tapes. Before she died, she’d selected twenty photographs that summed up the story she needed to tell Imogen and attemtped to describe them to the lost girl. She tangents each time, revealing her own unhappy past as well as that of the family.

This isn’t Coe the cynical, comic writer: this is compelling and heartbreaking stuff. The epistolary nature of it evoke private and disconnected worlds. Rosamond describes what the photographs don’t reveal. She shows how someone who doesn’t know the private lives of the people in the photographs will see as little as Imogen would. The smiling family sat outside a beach hut isn’t really happy – they’re just smiling for the camera.

It’s very hard to say more without spoiling the book. But I stayed up late and got up early to finish it as quickly as I could. Simply beautiful and surprisingly moving.

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