Rosamond has recently passed away and her niece Gill faces the task of organizing her funeral and emptying her cluttered cottage. After the funeral, Rosamond’s doctor recounts finding Rosamond upright in her chair, surrounded by photo albums and clutching a tape recorder’s microphone. When Gill arrives at the cottage, she finds four cassettes along with a message "Gill - these are for Imogen. If you cannot find her, listen to them yourself."
When extensive searching fails to locate Imogen (Gill’s second cousin who is blind), Gill decides to listen to the tapes with her daughters. Rosamond has selected 20 photos to describe to Imogen and in doing so, recounts her story of escaping the Blitz in Shropshire, the resulting close friendship developed with her cousin Beatrix, and the tragic family secrets hidden for decades.
Jonathan Coe’s eighth novel is a significant departure from his well-known works of sociopolitical satire. Instead of biting wit, The Rain Before It Falls is a quiet, melancholy story of three generations of women in a Shropshire family. The emotional bankruptcy and violence of Beatrix’s childhood carries forward, infecting her daughter Thea, her blood-sister Rosamond and eventually Imogen. The path of the story feels pre-ordained, violence and emotional reserve beget the same, and Imogen’s birth seems inevitable from that of her mother.
While Coe paints a bleak, minimalist story, the emotional landscape is intense. Rosamond’s goal is to provide Imogen with a sense of her own history, which may have been kept from her by her adopted family. At the same time, she is sharing the forces that shaped her into a maiden aunt, substitute mother and ill-fated lover. For while Beatrix and her mother waver between indifference and violence, Rosamond is filled with repressed love waiting to escape and find an outlet.
In the end, The Rain Before It Falls is a morality tale of daughters doomed to repeat the same tragic mistakes as their mothers. While Coe explores waters unfamiliar to some of his readers, his exceptional skill keeps them engaged until all thoughts of political satire fade and his quiet message becomes audible.
Publication Date: March 10, 2009
Audio Extract Read by Jonathan Coe
tags: books book reviews fiction Jonathan Coe