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History of the Rain: A Novel Hardcover – May 6, 2014
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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*Starred Review* From her boat-shaped bed in the attic room of her family’s County Clare thatched-roof home, invalid Ruth Swain tries to uncover the secret of her father’s tortured life. She is surrounded by the thousands of books he devoured, everything from Dostoyevsky to Dickens, García Marquez to Galsworthy. In the stories of others, Ruth hopes to find her own family’s story, which begins with her rigidly religious great-grandfather, who set in motion the Swain quest for impossibly high standards. The failure to meet them will resonate for generations, culminating in the struggles of her father, Virgil, a dreamer and fisherman, the Irish prerequisites for becoming a poet. His inspiration arrived the night Ruth and her twin brother, Aeney, were born; it died the day Aeney drowned. Now housebound with a mysterious ailment, Ruth wants to write her father’s story in a book of her own before she dies. You can smell the peat burning and feel the ever-present mist in acclaimed Irish novelist Williams’ (John, 2008) luscious paean to all who lose themselves in books. Williams captures the awe and all of Ireland—its myths and mysteries, miseries and magic—through the pitch-perfect voice of a saucily defiant young woman who has witnessed too much tragedy but who clings devotedly to those she’s lost. --Carol Haggas
“A delicate and graceful love story that is also an exaltation of love itself . . . A luminously written, magical work of fiction . . . Four Letters of Love is formed with an unusual authority and grace, and it is filled with marvelous characters, large and small, all depicted with an understated veracity.” ―Katharine Weber, The New York Times Book Review
“A two-time nominee for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Niall Williams (Four Letters of Love) has written an incandescent novel about family, Ireland, and the magical power of stories.” ―Shelf Talker, Shelf Awareness
“You can smell the peat burning and feel the ever-present mist in [this] luscious paean to all who lose themselves in books. Williams captures the awe and all of Ireland--its myths and mysteries, miseries and magic--through the pitch-perfect voice of a saucily defiant young woman who has witnessed too much tragedy but who clings devotedly to those she's lost.” ―starred review, Booklist
“A rambling, soft-hearted Irish family saga stuffed with eccentricity, literature, anecdotes, mythology, humor, and heartbreak.” ―Kirkus
“Destined to be a classic, Williams's seventh novel (after Boy and Man) isn't just the elegy Ruthie offers to the departed but also the love letter to reading and its life-giving powers. The author's voice and narrative remain utterly unique even as she invites comparisons to Jim Hawkins, Ishmael, and hosts of legendary literary narrators.” ―starred review, Library Journal
“History of the Rain is charming, wise and beautiful. It is a love letter to Ireland in all its contradictions, to literature and poetry and family. It acknowledges that faith itself is a paradox, both possible and necessary. And faith carries this novel--faith that stories can save us, that love endures, that acceptance is within reach, and finally, that it is possible to get to the other side of grief.” ―Shelf Awareness
“While a wealth of impressions linger from this debut, two words come most often to mind in describing it: Spellbinding. Brilliant.” ―starred review, Kirkus Reviews on FOUR LETTERS OF LOVE
“A compelling meditation on love, art and the vicissitudes of fate.” ―San Francisco Chronicle on FOUR LETTERS OF LOVE
“Heart-rending and unforgettable.” ―The Economist on ONLY SAY THE WORD
“God and Love and death can take care of themselves. A far greater mystery is the marvellous existence of a writer like Niall Williams . . . [He] really does write like an angel.” ―The Guardian on AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
Top customer reviews
I woke up thinking about this novel, and I almost regret dedicating my morning to finishing it. But sometimes a story begs to be devoured.
Sometimes, you can tell an author is a devout reader through their writing. Niall Williams clearly is one of these types, based on History of the Rain. So, of course, I love him the more for it. This is a story of family, history, love, tragedy, Ireland, and books. And it's probably my favorite Man Booker 2014 longlisted novel so far.
Ruth lives in her room due to a vague illness and a fear of the outdoors. She's inherited her father's extensive library, where she attempts to find him, one book at a time. Throughout the story, books are dropped like rain, and I was personally reminded of how many I need to experience. Though I'm very familiar with one of the most important writers frequently mentioned: Yeats. For how could you not include him in an Irish novel about writing and poetry? So, he's there. History of the Rain will surely strike a chord in people who appreciate not just the story inside the books, but the history and physicality of them as well. I'm firmly in the camp of books being a necessary part of my home's ecosystem. But as I've gotten older I've come to relish certain stories not just for the meaning of their content but for the fact that they were purchased and read by my father. A few he's given to me, and reading them is something personally spectacular. Though I'm not searching for my father in the way Ruth must, I find through his books how he came to be who he is now, before I ever existed. A moment like this I could particularly see in my own father (and perhaps a quality in myself):
"The library that grew in our house contained all my father's idiosyncrasies, contained the man he was at thirty-five, and at forty, at forty-five. He did not edit himself. He did not look back at the books of ten years ago and pluck out the ones whose taste was no longer his."
I can relate to this as my Father's only daughter (and child), and the importance it's had on my own life. Williams writes of a father/daughter relationship not often seen in literature, though these are generally portrayed much less than father/son relationships in the first place.
Niall Williams writes with beautiful clarity and apparent ease. Hardly a chapter or page went by without a pause to take note of something profound. The imagery evoked in this sleepy community celebrates the Irish qualities that only such an account as this can excite. I wanted to fly to Ireland immediately while reading, but perhaps I should explore my own history first.
If themes like this are of any interest, I encourage a thorough reading of this chronicle of one family. Though you don't need to be a Swain, or Irish for that matter, you may find pieces of your own history in this account, like I did.
This is a deeply moving book that shows us what it is to be ourselves. There are moments of terrible sadness here when death strikes because the reader is made aware of the love that everyone has for each other that makes these events profoundly moving using an extraordinary economy of words.Ruth makes you feel part of this family and the wider community as she views the world from the restricted confines of her room in the attic through the pages of the massive quantity of books that threaten her very safety. You dare not skip a sentence, for if you do you might miss a sharp comment or observation that will have you in stitches; that Irish humour that enables them not to take life too seriously, which Ruth has in abundance. The glue that bonds the entire story together is literature, and more importantly, poetry but do not allow the amazing references that the author provides to distract you from what is ultimately a deeply emotional tale of one family, whose refusal to conform to the ordinary provides us with characters in this book, with not a mean one amongst them, for whom one generates an enormous affection.This is possibly my most enjoyable read of the year.
The best things about this novel are (a) the fun of appreciating the allusions (okay, I didn't get at least 25% of them, not being as well informed on the classics...); (b) learning about life in a modern-day Irish small town; (c) watching the history of a very quirky family unfold; and (d) being amazed at the sheer beauty of the writing.
Also, it was great that the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of an Irish town never became cutesy or patronizing. You felt that the author really knew these townspeople, was irritated by them sometimes, amused by them sometimes, but also had a fundamental respect for them.
The writing is absolutely stunning. I kept wanting to underline whole paragraphs. Here's an example:
"I am thin but not of the sylph kind, more the gawky lanky kind which may be what constitutes the Swain Beautiful but feels Rangy Ruth to me. My knees are actually sharp. At that age I am officially Waiting for My Chest. The Chest Fairy is on the way from Boozoomia or somewhere and all the girls in my class are going to sleep at night in their own state of Great Expectation, waking up and checking: is that it? -- throwing their shoulders far back and breasting the world, as if the task of womanhood is to balance the weight that lands on your chest and could easily topple you over. Which in a way I suppose is true."
Here's another one:
"Each family functions in their own way, by rules reinvented daily. The strangeness of each of us is somehow accommodated so that there can be such a thing as family and we can all live for some time at least in the same house. Normal is what you know."
Now here's why I didn't give it five stars. It went on a bit too long. The descriptive parts were all very lovely, but there just so many of them. And I wanted to know what happened in the end. Even though I became impatient with a few of the characters sometimes, I also became quite fond of them, and wanted to see the plot resolve itself. I therefore ended up skimming over some of the beautiful descriptions, to reach what turned out to be a very satisfying ending.