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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The History of Rain by Niall Williams

I am finishing up the books that were long listed for the Booker prize last year while I also work on the new long list, and this was one of the few I had left over.  It is written in a peculiar voice that I enjoyed but did not love.

Ruth Swain from County Clare is looking back over her life.  She is young and confined to her bed by an ill-defined illness, making her seem like she is from a by gone time.  She is surrounded by the thousands of books that belong to her father, who is part farmer, part amateur scholar.  Everyone in her family is what she calls a long story.  So she proceeds to tell that story in a way that is at once convoluted and beautiful, with some aphorisms thrown in to make her point.

The book’s central enigma is Ruth's father Virgil, a poet and farmer like his classical namesake, who reads William Blake to his cows. Somewhere between epic and family saga, the book is an unabashedly unfashionable, a lyrical paean to the pleasure of reading and to serendipity: leafing through her father’s volumes, Ruth discovers maps, envelopes, notes pressed between rain-mottled pages, finds her orange Penguin copy of Moby-Dick bulging with “the smell of complex humanity”, getting fatter with rereading because “the more you read it the bigger your own experience of the world gets, the fatter your soul”.  The book is not just well written, it has a good ending.

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