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The Rain Before it Falls

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Following "The Rotters' Club "and its sequel, "The Closed Circle, "Jonathan Coe now offers his first stand-alone novel in a decade, a story of three generations of women whose destinies reach from the English countryside in World War II to London, Toronto, and southern France at the turn of the new century. Evacuated to Shropshire during the Blitz, eight-year-old Rosamond f Following "The Rotters' Club "and its sequel, "The Closed Circle, "Jonathan Coe now offers his first stand-alone novel in a decade, a story of three generations of women whose destinies reach from the English countryside in World War II to London, Toronto, and southern France at the turn of the new century. Evacuated to Shropshire during the Blitz, eight-year-old Rosamond forged a bond with her cousin Beatrix that augured the most treasured and devastating moments of her life. She recorded these memories sixty years later, just before her death, on cassettes she bequeathed to a woman she hadn't seen in decades. When her beloved niece, Gill, plays the tapes in hopes of locating this unwitting heir, she instead hears a family saga swathed in promise and betrayal: the story of how Beatrix, starved of her mother's affection, conceived a fraught bloodline that culminated in heart-stopping tragedy--its chief victim being her own granddaughter. And as Rosamond explores the ties that bound these generations together and shaped her experience all along, Gill grows increasingly haunted by how profoundly her own recollections--not to mention the love she feels for her grown daughters, listening alongside her--are linked to generations of women she never knew. A stirring, masterful portrait of motherhood and family secrets, "The Rain Before It Falls" is also a meditation on the tapestries we weave out of the past, whether transcendent or horrific. Hailed by the "Los Angeles Times" for his "sustained, intricate brilliance," Jonathan Coe once again proves himself "an artist of character and of his characters' stories," here more astutely than ever before.

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Following "The Rotters' Club "and its sequel, "The Closed Circle, "Jonathan Coe now offers his first stand-alone novel in a decade, a story of three generations of women whose destinies reach from the English countryside in World War II to London, Toronto, and southern France at the turn of the new century. Evacuated to Shropshire during the Blitz, eight-year-old Rosamond f Following "The Rotters' Club "and its sequel, "The Closed Circle, "Jonathan Coe now offers his first stand-alone novel in a decade, a story of three generations of women whose destinies reach from the English countryside in World War II to London, Toronto, and southern France at the turn of the new century. Evacuated to Shropshire during the Blitz, eight-year-old Rosamond forged a bond with her cousin Beatrix that augured the most treasured and devastating moments of her life. She recorded these memories sixty years later, just before her death, on cassettes she bequeathed to a woman she hadn't seen in decades. When her beloved niece, Gill, plays the tapes in hopes of locating this unwitting heir, she instead hears a family saga swathed in promise and betrayal: the story of how Beatrix, starved of her mother's affection, conceived a fraught bloodline that culminated in heart-stopping tragedy--its chief victim being her own granddaughter. And as Rosamond explores the ties that bound these generations together and shaped her experience all along, Gill grows increasingly haunted by how profoundly her own recollections--not to mention the love she feels for her grown daughters, listening alongside her--are linked to generations of women she never knew. A stirring, masterful portrait of motherhood and family secrets, "The Rain Before It Falls" is also a meditation on the tapestries we weave out of the past, whether transcendent or horrific. Hailed by the "Los Angeles Times" for his "sustained, intricate brilliance," Jonathan Coe once again proves himself "an artist of character and of his characters' stories," here more astutely than ever before.

30 review for The Rain Before it Falls

  1. 5 out of 5

    B the BookAddict

    The only Jonathan Coe book I had previously read is his wonderful biography of the brilliant, enigmatic and troubled B S Johnson Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson. A compelling, intricate, multi-layered story of three women and the friendship which haunts another, Coe's novel never falls into the category of chick-lit; it tells of a mystery and the paradox of love and friendship. A novel which can be appreciated by readers of many genres and all sexes. It is difficult to review so The only Jonathan Coe book I had previously read is his wonderful biography of the brilliant, enigmatic and troubled B S Johnson Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson. A compelling, intricate, multi-layered story of three women and the friendship which haunts another, Coe's novel never falls into the category of chick-lit; it tells of a mystery and the paradox of love and friendship. A novel which can be appreciated by readers of many genres and all sexes. It is difficult to review so that the mystery is not given away. I read this book in hardcover and imagine that an audio rendition would be superb: to hear the story as does one of the prime characters. The novel opens with the death of Gill's aunt, Rosamund. At the reading of the will, Gill discovers she has been requested to find Imogen, the grand-daughter of Rosamond’s cousin Beatrix. Imogen has been bequeathed a package of cassette tapes narrated by Rosamund. The search fruitless, Gill listens to these tapes as she herself is interested to hear their content. Coe then uses the brilliant method of Rosamund describing relevant photographs to acquaint Imogen, and the reader, with her grandmother, the emotionally erratic Beatrix and her mother, the estranged Thea. It also traces Rosamond’s life as it is haunted by her friendship with these three women. The photos take you to Shropshire, post war London, across to Toronto and France and then finally back to Shropshire again. I found myself following Rosamond’s narration eagerly as I could well imagine Imogen would. Although somewhat melancholic, it is beautifully so with an enticing and dreamlike quality which has stayed with me long after I finished reading. Never depressing, rather it serves to remind us of the heritage of character and past endowed to a child. It also portrays the strong loyalties and sometimes damaging qualities of friendship. Not only is this an incredibly beautiful visual story, it is indelibly emotive, haunting and detailed. A novel I would have no hesitation in recommending. 5★

  2. 4 out of 5

    Annet

    This is a hidden gem. Published in 2008, and why haven't I heard from this author til now? Picked this up from a The Hague bookshop from the shelves the staff pick (usually very good) only two weeks ago. Loved this one, beautiful story, beautiful writing...it's a 'slow story', it needs time to sink in, but at the same time a very easy read that keeps you going, wondering about what's going to happen next. "The Rain before it falls is the story of 3 generations of one family struck by tragedy. Wh This is a hidden gem. Published in 2008, and why haven't I heard from this author til now? Picked this up from a The Hague bookshop from the shelves the staff pick (usually very good) only two weeks ago. Loved this one, beautiful story, beautiful writing...it's a 'slow story', it needs time to sink in, but at the same time a very easy read that keeps you going, wondering about what's going to happen next. "The Rain before it falls is the story of 3 generations of one family struck by tragedy. When Rosamund, a reluctant bearer of family secrets, dies suddenly, a mystery is left for her niece Gill to unravel. Photograph albums, but more importantly, tapes with Rosamund telling the family story, point towards Imogen, a blind girl in the family whom no one has seen for a long time. The search for Imogen and the truth of her inheritance becomes a moving story of mothers and daughters, partners and other family members, and of how sadness, like a musical refrain, may haunt us forever." I love the title, it has several layers of meaning and is referred to in the book two or three times. Lovely story, I will look for this author to read more of his work.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I especially liked the vehicle used to tell this story: A maiden aunt dies and her niece is the only relative left to handle the estate details. She discovers cassette tapes and family pictures beside the chair in which she died. Aunt Rosamond had left a narrative explaining the pictures for a mystery girl named Imogen, which also explained a lot of unresolved family mysteries and questions. To say that it was complicated would be an understatement. Jonathan Coe manages to tell the story of 60 ye I especially liked the vehicle used to tell this story: A maiden aunt dies and her niece is the only relative left to handle the estate details. She discovers cassette tapes and family pictures beside the chair in which she died. Aunt Rosamond had left a narrative explaining the pictures for a mystery girl named Imogen, which also explained a lot of unresolved family mysteries and questions. To say that it was complicated would be an understatement. Jonathan Coe manages to tell the story of 60 years and 3 generations of women in only 240 pages, but he does an excellent job. The writing is almost gothic at times and keeps the reader turning the pages. It was an engrossing read for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    4.5 stars. This author deserves more attention. This was an amazing exploration of a family through several generations of women. I have a feeling that no review I write is likely to do it justice. We begin with a husband and wife doing yard work. The wife answers the phone and learns her aunt has just passed away. As the executrix, she is responsible for winding up the estate, and so she goes to her aunt's house to begin that process. While there, she finds some things the aunt left behind, and 4.5 stars. This author deserves more attention. This was an amazing exploration of a family through several generations of women. I have a feeling that no review I write is likely to do it justice. We begin with a husband and wife doing yard work. The wife answers the phone and learns her aunt has just passed away. As the executrix, she is responsible for winding up the estate, and so she goes to her aunt's house to begin that process. While there, she finds some things the aunt left behind, and the story within the story begins. I don't want to say any more because I was unaware of much of anything about this book going in, and I think the less you know, the better. Suffice it to say that there is so much ground covered here: Grief and loss, obviously, but more broadly, what it means to be a mother, and a daughter. Non-traditional families. How just a few key moments can change the trajectory of someone's entire life, and beyond. The audio performance was amazing. Six stars for the audio performance. The book itself was five stars for me nearly the whole way through, but the ending lost a bit of punch for me. I have a feeling though that if I reread it, it might earn that full five stars. This is my first book by Jonathan Coe, but I'm determined to read all of his work after this experience. Not always an easy read and certainly not a light one, but the writing and the characterization in this were amazing. And you will never be bored. Very hard to put this book down. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    The title of this novel, "The Rain Before It Falls," is a metaphor for those things that exist just beyond our experience, patterns that elude us, meanings we can't yet grasp. Coe uses as narrator the voice of a woman, Rosamond, describing twenty family photos into a tape recorder, before she takes pills and ends her life. Rosamond tells the story of four women, mothers and daughters, and the tragedy that silently passes from one to another. This melancholy book powerfully traces the way ghosts The title of this novel, "The Rain Before It Falls," is a metaphor for those things that exist just beyond our experience, patterns that elude us, meanings we can't yet grasp. Coe uses as narrator the voice of a woman, Rosamond, describing twenty family photos into a tape recorder, before she takes pills and ends her life. Rosamond tells the story of four women, mothers and daughters, and the tragedy that silently passes from one to another. This melancholy book powerfully traces the way ghosts haunt families, sometimes producing almost unspeakable pain from seeds sown long before. I admire this book deeply. Coe writes beautifully, knows how to create a compelling narrative voice, and centers his narrative upon sensitivities and subtleties rather than upon overly dramatic events. This is not a quick read, but it is a compelling one, and leaves me pondering the family as it moves through generations and how each memory tries to fashion, from distorted fragments, the story and meaning of the darkening past.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris_P

    Every once in a while, you come across a book which, although far from being a masterpiece, finds its way into you, where you know right away it will stay for a very long time if not forever. One such book is The Rain Before It Falls. The ability of Jonathan Coe to weave haunting stories is by no means news to me, since this is the fifth novel I've read by the English author. However, while I found The House of Sleep, What A Carve Up and The Rotters' club near perfect and The Privacy Of Maxwell Every once in a while, you come across a book which, although far from being a masterpiece, finds its way into you, where you know right away it will stay for a very long time if not forever. One such book is The Rain Before It Falls. The ability of Jonathan Coe to weave haunting stories is by no means news to me, since this is the fifth novel I've read by the English author. However, while I found The House of Sleep, What A Carve Up and The Rotters' club near perfect and The Privacy Of Maxwell Sim close to bad, I feel that this one falls into the aforementioned special category. Without a big mystery, nor a complex plot or narrative but merely within a striking simplicity, The Rain Before It Falls is a perfect example of what we could call a good novel. Through a simple story, Coe writes an ode to nostalgia and a comment on how parents bequeath so much more than property and characteristics to their children. Despite it being rather short, the form in which The Rain Before It Falls is written can be a bit monotonous at times, due to the somewhat extensive descriptions and long chapters. Furthermore, the final notion with the dog is a bit cheesy and uncalled for and confused me as to where Coe was intending to get at with it. However in the end, it didn't spoil the overall experience I had with the book, as the message rings loud and clear and is one that can't be easily ignored. Touching, without attempting to rape the reader's feelings as is the case with other novels of the kind, The Rain Before It Falls does what it's meant to do and it does it quietly, while proving at the same time what a talented writer Coe is. And it's precisely this talent the reason I can't rate it with less than 4 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nette

    Good writer, intriguing plot, lame concept: an old lady talks into a tape recorder while LOOKING AT PICTURES. Each chapter, another picture. "Here is a house. It is a very beautiful house, and there is a tree in the yard. Is that a car under the tree? Why yes, I believe it is." Look, I have to sit through endless Powerpoint presentations at work, I don't need the experience re-created in a novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This beautifully written book takes the form of an oral narrative, recorded on a set of cassettes discovered beside the body of Rosamund, an elderly woman who has killed herself rather than let cancer do the job for her. It's the story of Rosamund's entanglement with her cousin Beatrix, a thoroughly self-centred and manipulative individual,and several generations of Beatrix's family. As Rosamund's niece, Gill, listens to the tapes, she learns of the emotional disaster area that was Beatrix's lif This beautifully written book takes the form of an oral narrative, recorded on a set of cassettes discovered beside the body of Rosamund, an elderly woman who has killed herself rather than let cancer do the job for her. It's the story of Rosamund's entanglement with her cousin Beatrix, a thoroughly self-centred and manipulative individual,and several generations of Beatrix's family. As Rosamund's niece, Gill, listens to the tapes, she learns of the emotional disaster area that was Beatrix's life and the damage this selfish woman managed to inflict upon the next two generations. At the same time, the poignant narrative of Rosamund's own life - that of a lesbian in the 1950s and 60s - is also recounted. The title of the book is an image of something liminal and affecting, something that almost exists, but does not quite -like the pattern that Gill glimpses in the unfolding family saga. Before she can grasp the pattern and understand its meaning, however, the glimpse is swept away by the clamorous demands of the present. In places Jonathan Coe's writing has a luminoisty that held me spellbound.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Georg

    Difficult to rate and review. In the end I was a little bit disappointed. Big mysteries are announced but eventually not revealed. A lot of characters appear on the show and I recommand a written diagram for all the daughters, grand-daughters, uncles and aunts from several generations and decades. Though I did not quite understand for what purpose Coe made it as complicated as he did. He could have dropped at least 50 % of his staff without spoiling the plot. But maybe this is not a solid argume Difficult to rate and review. In the end I was a little bit disappointed. Big mysteries are announced but eventually not revealed. A lot of characters appear on the show and I recommand a written diagram for all the daughters, grand-daughters, uncles and aunts from several generations and decades. Though I did not quite understand for what purpose Coe made it as complicated as he did. He could have dropped at least 50 % of his staff without spoiling the plot. But maybe this is not a solid argument. Many families ARE complicated and we meet thousands of people in our life who are not crucial fr our "plot". So why four stars and not less? Because this is a wonderfully written book with an intelligent narrator and I liked to read this "cv in 20 pics" a lot. Not a book to love passionately, but a book to start a friendship with.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Canadian

    When her elderly aunt dies, Gill learns that Rosamond made several audio tapes that are to be delivered to a young relative, who also happens to be one of the three heirs to the old woman’s estate. Gill doesn't actually know how Aunt Rosamond is connected with “Imogen”, whom Gill met years ago at her aunt’s fiftieth birthday party. Gill was then pregnant with her first daughter, and Imogen was only a child. Blinded at the age of three, the little girl was by that time not living with her birth m When her elderly aunt dies, Gill learns that Rosamond made several audio tapes that are to be delivered to a young relative, who also happens to be one of the three heirs to the old woman’s estate. Gill doesn't actually know how Aunt Rosamond is connected with “Imogen”, whom Gill met years ago at her aunt’s fiftieth birthday party. Gill was then pregnant with her first daughter, and Imogen was only a child. Blinded at the age of three, the little girl was by that time not living with her birth mother, but with an adoptive family. Well over twenty years have gone by since that party, and no one knows where Imogen has got to. Newspaper and online notices have been posted, but she has not been tracked down. Since Rosamond gave permission for Gill and her two twenty-something daughters to listen to the tapes themselves in the event that Imogen could not be located, they do so. Coe’s novel is essentially a transcript of a series of monologues about twenty key photographs from Rosamond’s life. Rosamond’s experiences have been interesting ones: during World War II she was evacuated from Birmingham to her aunt and uncle’s farm in Wales where she made a life-changing connection with her slightly older cousin, Beatrix; Rosamond also managed to carve out a sometimes fulfilling life for herself during times that were unaccepting of same-sex unions. As intriguing as some parts of that life may have been, having them presented as a series of taped messages does not make for a particularly satisfying or dynamic novel. Yes, the reader is spurred on, to some extent, by the desire to find out how Imogen and Rosamond are connected (that information comes quite quickly) and whether Imogen is ultimately located and the tapes delivered; however, that isn’t enough to create much momentum. After reading descriptions of seven or eight photos, I’d really had enough, and I wished Coe had chosen a different way to tell his story. I also fairly quickly tired of Rosamond’s voice—for one thing, there were too many adverbs. This is my first time reading Coe, and I have no idea how representative this book is. I’ve heard good things about his new novel, but it wasn't yet available at my local library. Given my experience with this one, I am in no hurry to read his latest.

  11. 5 out of 5

    doreen

    Incredibly beautiful and melancholy, which seems to be quite the undercurrent in Jonathan Coe's books that I've read. I devoured this book in the course of a few days, and it was well-worth it. The book is about a family tragedy carried down through generations, and the woman who was connected to the family, much to the effect of the events haunting her deeply later. Jonathan Coe is adept at telling human dramas that could easily seem quaint with another writer, but he makes it into beauty. The wr Incredibly beautiful and melancholy, which seems to be quite the undercurrent in Jonathan Coe's books that I've read. I devoured this book in the course of a few days, and it was well-worth it. The book is about a family tragedy carried down through generations, and the woman who was connected to the family, much to the effect of the events haunting her deeply later. Jonathan Coe is adept at telling human dramas that could easily seem quaint with another writer, but he makes it into beauty. The writing is intelligent and insightful, told primarily in the narrative format. I worried that I might tire of the point-of-view, but that wasn't the case. It was interesting to explore these hidden lives and the bonds between people, and how they could become broken.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    After a bit of a dry spell I treated myself to this book after 'discovering' Coe only earlier this year. I adored what a carve up, and really enjoyed House of sleep. His nack for revealing plot with suspense, his character building and the way he can get away with frankly ludicrous plot lines all add up to a great read. This is a very different fish, however... There are a few glimmers of Jonathan Coe here, but overall it feels like a book written by A.N.Other. If you covered the author name i'd After a bit of a dry spell I treated myself to this book after 'discovering' Coe only earlier this year. I adored what a carve up, and really enjoyed House of sleep. His nack for revealing plot with suspense, his character building and the way he can get away with frankly ludicrous plot lines all add up to a great read. This is a very different fish, however... There are a few glimmers of Jonathan Coe here, but overall it feels like a book written by A.N.Other. If you covered the author name i'd NEVER guess this was by Coe, and for that reason it disappointed me hugely. The book uses a rather tired old device of a narrator dictating their life story onto a series of tapes, which make up the bulk of the book. However it's not written in a speaking style for a start, and this device is really heavy handed as the narrator describes a series of 20 photographs. Frankly, this is the kind of thing they make you do in an undergraduate creative writing class, and Coe is way better than this lack of subtlty allows. Not ambitious enough, not wacky enough for Coe and very disappointing. The denouement is ok, but generally disappointing and not worth the effort really. If you like Coe, don't bother with it. If you like fey, nostalgic and lazy tales of a vague family intrigue then maybe give it a whirl.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I liked this better than The Closed Circle and The Rotters Club, but not as much as What a Carve Up, Like a Fiery Elephant or the The House of Sleep. Perhaps because I've read so much Jonathan Coe at this stage, I'm overly familiar and never engaged with the characters as being anything other than his latest fictional inventions. For what was a very sad story, I never got weepy. But I thought the central theme - misery being handed down the generations, deepening like a coastal shelf - was movin I liked this better than The Closed Circle and The Rotters Club, but not as much as What a Carve Up, Like a Fiery Elephant or the The House of Sleep. Perhaps because I've read so much Jonathan Coe at this stage, I'm overly familiar and never engaged with the characters as being anything other than his latest fictional inventions. For what was a very sad story, I never got weepy. But I thought the central theme - misery being handed down the generations, deepening like a coastal shelf - was moving. And the main character's desperate need to love and be loved and to have a family of her own - to the extent of becoming far too vicariously involved in another family's misfortunes - was very touching too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daenerys

    This is a quick an easy read. While there are some beautiful passages which show Coe's ability to evoke his characters' feelings, the parts of the book that are supposedly related by the narrator feel artificial and somewhat forced, and in many cases revelations that were supposed to be shocking left me indifferent. It's an okay book, but not unforgettable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Margot

    The story of a tragic family history, charmingly told by Jonathan Coe. It’s deceptively simple at times, and the ending packs quite a punch, though Coe never veers into melodrama. Would recommend to people who like meandering stories about mothers and daughters.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hiroto

    I can now say I have at least read one J.Coe book ! This one was chosen to me by one of my new coworkers, she adores this story. I can see why, and even thought it is not my cup of tea, I totally get why she was floored by this one. This is the kind of book you'll love to discuss in book clubs : family secrets, originality of the narration, 3d characters. It just didn't do it for emotionnaly (i am known for my hard-as-f heart after all).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    This is an enormously readable novel from the author of The Rotters Club, The House of Sleep and and What a carve up! I have read each of those three novel and was left fairly cold by the first, and loved the second two - this one I also thoroughly enjoyed. I read it in no time, as it's not very big and is pretty hard to put down. The story is told in the voice of Rosamund as she prepares to die - wishing to tell her distant lost relation Imogen about her family and how she came into being. Havin This is an enormously readable novel from the author of The Rotters Club, The House of Sleep and and What a carve up! I have read each of those three novel and was left fairly cold by the first, and loved the second two - this one I also thoroughly enjoyed. I read it in no time, as it's not very big and is pretty hard to put down. The story is told in the voice of Rosamund as she prepares to die - wishing to tell her distant lost relation Imogen about her family and how she came into being. Having failed to find Imogen, Rosamund's neice Gill and her two daughters are listening to the tapes instead. The tale that emerges is one of three generations of familial unhappiness and destructiveness, particularly between the mothers and daughters of each generation. Rosamund's story takes us from the early years of world war two - to the 1980's and beyond to the present day. Rosamund punctuates her story with the description of twenty photographs, each picture helping to illustrate something of the time, or the situation that Rosamund is trying to recreate. It is a testement to the good writing and excellent story telling ability of Jonanthan Coe, that in a fairly short novel (around 270 pages) the reader has the feeling of knowing so much about three generations of one family, and the tragedy of their mistakes which seem destined to be repeated by the next generation.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sera

    This book is like a sentimental journey. The stories of four women are narrated with the secrets of old photographs. We become witnesses on how cruel and devastating the families can be. The narrator is the old woman Rosamond has inevitably become my favorite character. I wish we could also have read Imogen, the blind girl’s point-of-view. I loved the language and the way the author Jonathan Coe depicts the photographs and sceneries. I will definitely consider reading the House of Sleep as well. This book is like a sentimental journey. The stories of four women are narrated with the secrets of old photographs. We become witnesses on how cruel and devastating the families can be. The narrator is the old woman Rosamond has inevitably become my favorite character. I wish we could also have read Imogen, the blind girl’s point-of-view. I loved the language and the way the author Jonathan Coe depicts the photographs and sceneries. I will definitely consider reading the House of Sleep as well. The stories of the unspeakable and missed chances make the book so sad, the idea of destiny becomes devastating and even annoying in the end and that’s my only objection to the novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I picked up this book randomly, just because I liked the title. It is a story of an old lady at the end of her life, narrating her memories for a family member by going through significant photographs. There were interesting parts, but I grew tired of the framework and the predictable plot developments. It just felt like it dragged on way too long and had some strange, extraneous scenes, like a flute recital and a breakup of a tertiary relationship which had no real bearing on the main story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Els

    I remember having to read Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up for a course about postmodernism. It was one of my favourite books on the reading list and whilst reading The Rain Before it Falls I noticed Coe using the same techniques my professor talked about. I'm so happy I read this one after taking the course because I took much more from the book than I would have otherwise and still genuinely enjoyed the story. Definitely picking up more of his books!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Slogged through this. Really dull, very trite set-up. Expected some big drama or reveal, but thoroughly disappointed. Don't bother

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nick Davies

    Somewhere between a two and a three for this novel - this month's choice for the book group I am a member of - reflecting that it wasn't necessarily a bad novel, just one which wasn't really my kind of thing (and which I was hence starting to find more and more fault with, the longer I read it). The story is a family drama, and takes the format of a woman relating her family history on cassette tape before her death. Before we even get to any criticism of the narrative (what little there was - th Somewhere between a two and a three for this novel - this month's choice for the book group I am a member of - reflecting that it wasn't necessarily a bad novel, just one which wasn't really my kind of thing (and which I was hence starting to find more and more fault with, the longer I read it). The story is a family drama, and takes the format of a woman relating her family history on cassette tape before her death. Before we even get to any criticism of the narrative (what little there was - this rivalled Anne Enright for how little of any consequence actually happened for the reader to learn about) I found the set-up very problematic. The old woman's recollections were anchored by a series of photographs she describes, and I thought this was deeply contrived and unbelievable in the 'neatness' of a photograph being present and telling for every important moment in the described family history. Atop of this, the woman's narration was one-sided and excessively mired in description of extraneous detail and dithered about like an archetypical elderly person's endless meandering anecdote. Aspects of it I did quite like, aspects I didn't (all the male characters seemed flawed and unpleasant, and the women who entered into relationships with them came across as complicit fools as a consequence) but the overall sensation was that I had stood still and been manipulated by what I'd been told, as opposed to actually been taken on a journey. The author seemed to just be hoping that if he spent a long time telling his readers a lot of biographical information, he could then elicit an emotional reaction by having sad events happen to the characters we'd invested in.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    My review of this wonderful book: The Rain Before It Falls By Jonathan Coe (Knopf, 256 pages, $23.95) From its cryptically beautiful title to its subtly riveting narrative, from its amazing narrative voice to its satisfying and moving conclusion, this new novel from Jonathan Coe—his eighth—is a triumph. The Rain Before It Falls starts as a kind of autobiography of Rosamond, not written but recorded on an aging cassette recorder, in the days before her suicide (suffering from cancer, she opts to tak My review of this wonderful book: The Rain Before It Falls By Jonathan Coe (Knopf, 256 pages, $23.95) From its cryptically beautiful title to its subtly riveting narrative, from its amazing narrative voice to its satisfying and moving conclusion, this new novel from Jonathan Coe—his eighth—is a triumph. The Rain Before It Falls starts as a kind of autobiography of Rosamond, not written but recorded on an aging cassette recorder, in the days before her suicide (suffering from cancer, she opts to take her own life). Her story is unusual in two respects: first, she reconstructs her narrative through a series of photographs, depicting scenes of her life beginning with her evacuation from London to Shropshire during World War II and ending with a snapshot from her 50th birthday party; second, her story is directed at a single person, long vanished from her own life: Imogen, the granddaughter of Beatrix, her best friend from childhood. Rosamond has lost touch with Imogen and has no idea what has happened to her; it falls to her niece Gill, as executor of Rosamond's estate, to find the girl and present her with the tapes and the pictures. But Rosamond encourages Gill to listen herself if Imogen cannot be found, and most of the book is the transcription of Rosamond’s tapes. (It's a contrivance, of course; these purportedly off-the-cuff stories are shaped with great care and elegance, but it's a contrivance which quickly fades into the background.) Rosamond's memories have a very explicit purpose: she says she wants to give Imogen “a sense of your own history; a sense of where you come from, and of the forces that made you.” [p 29] There's a tantalizing hint of family secrets there, which Rosamond does reveal, but what also come through is an evocative portrait of Rosamond’s own life. One of the most amazing things about this novel is Coe’s ability to capture Rosamond’s voice so well; it’s a masterful act of ventriloquism and a testament to the range of his abilities as a writer (his other books have tended towards the farcical; they are often hilarious; this one is measured, eloquent, and deliciously sad). It’s in Shropshire, at her uncle’s farm, that Rosamond becomes “blood sisters” with her cousin Beatrix, the beginning of a volatile relationship that will last for decades. At first, the articulate, careful descriptions of photographs seem as contrived as the tape-recorded narratives, until one of Imogen's secrets is revealed: she went blind at the age of three (that explains the cassette tapes; Imogen, of course, couldn't read a written account). Rosamond uses the photos to prompt her memory, even though she’s aware of their deceptive, fragmentary reality: “A photograph is a poor thing, really. It can only capture one moment, out of millions of moments, in the life of person.” [p 35] The events of Rosamond's life revolve around her more animated--and probably slightly insane--friend Beatrix, who enters an early and disastrous marriage to escape the tedium of farm life. The marriage results in a daughter, Thea (Imogen's mother); when Thea is a toddler, Beatrix places her in the care of Rosamond to go to Canada with a new man. Thea ends up living with Rosamond and her lover Rebecca for three years: the daughter they could never have (at least in the 1950s). In a particularly moving scene, the couple take the young girl to the Auvergne district of France, where Thea articulates the title of the book: “I like the rain before it falls,” she says. [p 141] She understands the literal impossibility of that notion, but asserts “that’s why it’s my favourite. Something can still make you happy, can’t it, even if it isn’t real?” [p 142] It’s an odd symbol, more powerful because it’s so elusive, but what she’s saying, rather precociously, is that it’s not the cold hard facts of life that provide happiness, but the imagination itself. But it's the cold hard facts of life that nearly destroy Thea as well as Rosamond. Beatrix returns to England and reclaims her daughter; the shock and despair of losing Thea severs the relationship between Rosamond and Rebecca. And Beatrix turns out to be an almost monstrous mother, verbally abusing Thea and, to a lesser degree, Rosamond, who notes “what kept me loyal to [Beatrix] was my love for her daughter.” [p 150] When Beatrix leaves England again, Thea is a young woman, living with a failed rock musician in a kind of peripatetic, hippyish relationship (it’s the 1970s), with a daughter she too resents and abuses: Imogen. That abuse takes a tragic turn that leaves Imogen blinded and sends Thea to jail. Rosamond, now living with a successful painter named Ruth, wants custody of the three-year-old, but the social services people won’t place the daughter with an openly lesbian couple and send her, instead, to a foster family--almost never to be seen again. For such a personal and introspective novel, Coe has created a great deal of narrative momentum: the spectral existence of Imogen (who is she? why is she so important to Rosamond? what happens to her?) propels the novel, as does an overwhelming sense of the tragedy that hovers over this family and its chronicler Rosamond. But it's strangely hopeful too. In a particularly moving passage, Rosamond acknowledges that the cards were stacked against Imogen: “you should not have been born,” but “everything about you is right.” [p 215] Coe may have overstepped his reach a bit with that idea; Imogen is surely a tragic figure, and it's not clear exactly why Rosamond should feel such a sense of love for her (still, the reader never doubts that love, not for a second). It's a compelling story, a family saga, but there is a much larger theme at work in this terrific novel. The impulse to create fiction, to write stories, is to shape and impose meaning on the chaos of existence, and that’s exactly the idea this novel at once undercuts and celebrates. After listening to the tapes, Gill observes, “The pattern she had been searching for had gone. Worse than that—it had never existed. How could it? What she had been hoping for was a figment, a dream, an impossible thing: like the rain before it falls.” [p 240] That's exactly what readers want from a novel: an "impossible" reality, right there on the page, that can move you--and in this case, move you to tears.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Natalee

    The first book by Jonathan Coe that I've read and 'Wow' was I impressed. I had no real idea of what to expect even though I'd read the back of the book. Rosamond tells us her story, as well as the story of others -her family etc. The story is recorded on tapes which are found or essentially 'left' post Rosamond's death. The tapes are meant for a girl called Imogen. Her niece Gill who is in charge of her estate essentially has to find this girl but after searching for sometime with no luck, she li The first book by Jonathan Coe that I've read and 'Wow' was I impressed. I had no real idea of what to expect even though I'd read the back of the book. Rosamond tells us her story, as well as the story of others -her family etc. The story is recorded on tapes which are found or essentially 'left' post Rosamond's death. The tapes are meant for a girl called Imogen. Her niece Gill who is in charge of her estate essentially has to find this girl but after searching for sometime with no luck, she listens to the tapes. She then comes to discover many things about her family history, Rosamond's life, love, loss, happiness, sadness, mistakes and much more. I really enjoyed this book a lot. It was well written with descriptions of 20 pictures over a period of time and I could actually picture them. It was fascinating to hear of Rosamond's youth and how she come to where she is now. And the ending, I thought I had it all figured out but I didn't and I was immensely surprised. I raced through this book wanting the conclusion but not actually wanting the book to end!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susy

    2.5 stars It just didn’t work for me... Aunt Rosamund leaves a couple of tapes, telling her history, her niece/blood sister Beatrix’s and Imogen’s using photographs which she describes in detail. Reading it however I don’t hear Rosamund’s voice but the writer’s. I just don’t feel that the words used are hers, it’s the writer telling a story, they’re HIS words. I don’t know if this is the reason why, but I just didn’t feel any connection to or sympathy for the characters, Rosamund in particular (e 2.5 stars It just didn’t work for me... Aunt Rosamund leaves a couple of tapes, telling her history, her niece/blood sister Beatrix’s and Imogen’s using photographs which she describes in detail. Reading it however I don’t hear Rosamund’s voice but the writer’s. I just don’t feel that the words used are hers, it’s the writer telling a story, they’re HIS words. I don’t know if this is the reason why, but I just didn’t feel any connection to or sympathy for the characters, Rosamund in particular (even though I do acknowledge the transgenerational problems). I even rolled my eyes a couple of times. It was only in the last chapter that I felt something (although I wouldn’t call it shocking and gripping, only in comparison to the rest maybe).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim Puskas

    Well! I worked my way through it. Yes, a well written book, constructed in an innovative way (a monologue commenting on a series of family photographs). And certainly an unusual family. Mr. Coe is a skillful writer. But, for heaven's sake, what an endlessly bleak, depressing story is told! Worse, the characters range from bland and ineffectual to vicious and despicable. How can anyone possibly derive any satisfaction from such a narrative? I'm afraid this one will end up in the same category as Joh Well! I worked my way through it. Yes, a well written book, constructed in an innovative way (a monologue commenting on a series of family photographs). And certainly an unusual family. Mr. Coe is a skillful writer. But, for heaven's sake, what an endlessly bleak, depressing story is told! Worse, the characters range from bland and ineffectual to vicious and despicable. How can anyone possibly derive any satisfaction from such a narrative? I'm afraid this one will end up in the same category as John Williams' Stoner in my listing: A book that was universally praised by everyone except me. I guess I just have a problem with depressing books about unattractive characters, no matter how well the book may be written.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    Gosh, so interesting, such a strong bluesy mood to it, even if a bit slight as indeed the critics complain. But just so beautifully sustained and with such a cool feeling of the experimental about it--I wonder if Coe is feeling more experimental these days since his biography of B.S. Johnson? Anyhow, I read in a Guardian review that Coe took his inspiration from the novels of Rosamond Lehmann--which makes me want to go back and read Lehmann all over again (ahh, Dusty Answer). I found myself fasc Gosh, so interesting, such a strong bluesy mood to it, even if a bit slight as indeed the critics complain. But just so beautifully sustained and with such a cool feeling of the experimental about it--I wonder if Coe is feeling more experimental these days since his biography of B.S. Johnson? Anyhow, I read in a Guardian review that Coe took his inspiration from the novels of Rosamond Lehmann--which makes me want to go back and read Lehmann all over again (ahh, Dusty Answer). I found myself fascinated by this novel's relationship to Ian McEwan's Atonement. I must look up some reviews to see if any critics have picked up on this. It's a novel about sympathy and observation that for me raised all kinds of questions about how much we can actually help others when their pain stems from the parent-child relationship? What use are our insights about the origins or legacy of pain and grief in a family, and to whom do we address them? The crafting of the novel around a central scene was a device that Coe seems to treat in a sort of postmodern slightly pastiche kind of way--if I were cleverer and more learned I might have more to say about that. The themes of caring for someone, knowing someone, observing someone and having deep sympathy with them (loving them?)--resonated and yet felt like they were also treated in quite postmodern and experimental ways, by suggestion. The Birmingham wartime setting similarly felt like a sophisticated pastiche. I have to read some real reviews and make more sense of what excited me about this read! I hope there's a good review out there that will help me develop some of my thoughts. All in all this is the kind of book that makes one want to write a novel oneself--maybe because it has an open-ended quality to it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lorenzo Berardi

    Jonathan Coe gets really lyrical all through this book. Well, perhaps the choice of having a monologue for so many pages is not the best, but it works somehow. The same fact it's a voice recorded on tape speaking would have made it potentially hard to stand, but I enjoyed and really appreciated the way Coe made it. This is a voice coming from and talking about the past. Rosamund's voice illustrates photos to a distant listener, but what it really does is actually knitting a whole ball of thread i Jonathan Coe gets really lyrical all through this book. Well, perhaps the choice of having a monologue for so many pages is not the best, but it works somehow. The same fact it's a voice recorded on tape speaking would have made it potentially hard to stand, but I enjoyed and really appreciated the way Coe made it. This is a voice coming from and talking about the past. Rosamund's voice illustrates photos to a distant listener, but what it really does is actually knitting a whole ball of thread into some rich tapestry with words, memories, regrets. Putting my unbearable criticism related to some minor details (brackets!) behind, the book is captivating and has the power of making you feel melancholic in a soft gentle way. Mr Coe is probably one of the last romantics on this Earth and I like him being that way. There's something else to say. I read all the novels by Jonathan Coe so far and I've always thought that he was a very good writer, but pretty weak with endings. Whether they were happy or sad ones or B-movie like as it happens in "What a Carve Up!" Coe simply never convinced me with the way he was closing the stories. Well "The Rain Before It Falls" has a convincing ending and this is an encouraging thing to know for everyone who likes this novelist.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    I love Coe's The House of Sleep -- he's the architect of the most riotously funny footnote gag ever. Rain is not as baroquely weird as Sleep -- In fact, I'd put it in the same category with Penelope Lively and Carol Shields. Through the tapes bequeathed to a mysterious Imogen by his elderly narrator Rosamund, Coe lays bare the complex relationships of several generations of women. Rosamund has chosen 20 photographs to describe to Imogen in order to explain the tangled history that began during th I love Coe's The House of Sleep -- he's the architect of the most riotously funny footnote gag ever. Rain is not as baroquely weird as Sleep -- In fact, I'd put it in the same category with Penelope Lively and Carol Shields. Through the tapes bequeathed to a mysterious Imogen by his elderly narrator Rosamund, Coe lays bare the complex relationships of several generations of women. Rosamund has chosen 20 photographs to describe to Imogen in order to explain the tangled history that began during the Blitz. Rosamund describes her girlhood friendship with her cousin Beatrix; Beatrix's disastrous early marriage and neglect of her eldest daughter, Thea; the happy interlude when Rosamund and her lover Rebecca care for young Thea; and Thea's unhappy youth and the tragic way in which she follows in her mother's footsteps.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I haven’t read any of Coe’s work before and this book received mixed reviews from Amazon (I never read the reviews until I’ve finished a book), with many people comparing it unfavourably to other books by him. However, as a first experience I have to say it was a good one and I really enjoyed it. Coe’s writing is very fluid and it made it hard for me to put down. I kept reading “a little more” to find out what would happen next. I shall certainly be looking out for more of this author’s work.

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