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The Rain Before It Falls Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 11, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the latest from acclaimed London novelist Coe (The Rotter's Club), the story of two cousins' friendship is keyed to a hatred that is handed down from mother to daughter across generations, as in a Greek tragedy. Evacuated from London to her aunt and uncle's Shropshire farm, Rosamond bonds with her older cousin, Beatrix, who is emotionally abused by her mother. Beatrix grows up to abuse her daughter, Thea (in one unforgettable scene, Beatrix takes a knife and flies after Thea after Thea has ruined a blouse), with repercussions that reach the next generation. All of this is narrated in retrospect by an elderly Rosamond into a tape recorder: she is recording the family's history for Imogene, Beatrix's granddaughter, who is blind, and whom Rosamond hasn't seen in 20 years. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Rosamond's fundamental flaw and limit is her decency, a quality Coe weaves beautifully into the Shropshire and London settings—along with violence. Through relatively narrow lives on a narrow isle, Coe articulates a fierce, emotional current whose sweep catches the reader and doesn't let go until the very end. (Mar.)
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From The New Yorker

Time seems to collapse in this troubling family saga, more notable for its meditative aspects than for its relatively straightforward story of betrayal and loss. From her deathbed, the elderly Rosamond tells the story of her life and relationships through a series of photographs dating from nineteen-thirties rural England to London in the nineteen-eighties. The conceit allows Coe to explore the occult-seeming process by which the mind can summon the past into the present, but it occasionally becomes tiresome, given the plethora of symbolism-laden objects and locations that the reader must decode as different moments collide. By the end, however, a complex intergenerational mosaic of mothers and daughters emerges, suggestively demonstrating that, in the making of memory, "nothing was random, after all."
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First American Edition edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268037
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,366,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward." That observation might well serve as the epigraph for Jonathan Coe's somber and moving story of the toll emotional estrangement exacts on the women of one otherwise unremarkable British family.

THE RAIN BEFORE IT FALLS opens in 2006, when Gill learns of the death of her ailing spinster Aunt Rosamond in a small Shropshire village. After Rosamond's funeral, the task of sifting through the belongings left behind in her cottage falls to her niece. Next to her aunt's chair she makes a disturbing find: the remains of a tumbler of malt whisky, alongside an empty bottle of Diazepam. Equally startling is her discovery of four cassette tapes and a piece of paper bearing the words "Gill --- These are for Imogen. If you cannot find her, listen to them yourself."

That brief introduction provides the frame for the balance of the novel, most of which consists of the playing of the tapes, as Rosamond patiently and painstakingly describes for a young girl named Imogen --- blinded in an accident at age three --- the stories surrounding 19 carefully chosen snapshots and one portrait, while Gill and her adult daughters sit transfixed, listening to the story, "the gradual unveiling of their family's occult, unsuspected history."

Rosamond's account begins in 1941 when, like many of the children residing in England's cities, she has evacuated to the countryside --- in her case Warden Farm, owned by her aunt and uncle --- where she quickly develops a close relationship with her cousin Beatrix, three years her senior. The two girls seal their bond as "blood sisters" on the night of a poorly planned escape from the farm, and it seems they have forged an enduring friendship.
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Format: Hardcover
I think this is a wonderfully written novel that will have a difficult time receiving a wide readership because it's one of the most depressing novels I've read since Madame Bovary. Dysfunctional mothers, suicide, love and friendships rejected, death, poverty, abuse, and unhappiness at every turn of the page.

And yet, Coe's writing made me reread passages several times and even want to steal certain turns of phrase for my own blog!

I did read some of the reviews of this book from London newspapers on my library's databases, and some did not like the author's use of the 20 photographs that Rosamond describes to her blind friend Imogen in the attempt to help Imogen "see" and thus understand her history. It seems that it is 50% that, but ends up, of course, being another half Rosamond's effort to review her own life and justify the choices she made along the way.

And just as Rosamond and Imogen have a little discussion about what the rain is "before it falls", and Imogen, with the innocence of a child answers that it isn't real, so too is life before it is lived. You can sit at the end of life and with 20-20 hindsight perhaps expect to determine if you did the right things, but it is just hindsight.

So, the irony is that even when we come to the end and can see the past, Rosamund is still uncertain in many instances if she did the right things at the right times. Gosh, all that to say I really liked the use of the photographs as a plot construction tool. I found myself tuning in to looking at the scenes as if I were responsible for a stage construction.

If you enjoy "literary fiction" and don't mind a downpour of emotional content, this novel won't be just another blur of a read. The characters and the setting are quite unforgettable.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A little girl queries about rain: what exactly is the rain before it falls? Isn't it really rain? Is it really just moisture, moisture in the clouds?

And the voice of authority replies: " `You see, there's no such thing as the rain before it falls. It has to fall, or it isn't rain.' It was a silly point to be making to a little girl..."

Yet this concept, this figment, this impossible thing ~ The Rain Before It Falls (Vintage Contemporaries) ~ is Jonathan Coe's claim for the complexity of love, the contradiction of human nature, the pretension of family, and the mystery of character in this quiet but soulful portrait of women.

Coe's artful and gentle prose in this elegiac narrative is reserved yet revelatory. He diligently mines highly contradictory and deeply complex emotions between a family of English women, coaxing these emotions to the surface and revealing them with unsentimental sympathy.

At the heart of this graceful but tragic narrative is Rosamond, an elderly maiden auntie, living alone in Shropshire, England, who in anticipation of her death, records sixty years of family history on four cassette tapes. Accompanying the cassettes are twenty family photographs which complement the emotional story Rosamond feels she must tell before she dies.

Rosamond proves to be the family doyenne of storytelling. Her nuanced narrative is dedicated to the bonds between three generations of women in her family. Her focus is primarily on women's relationships with other women ~ relationships within the family dynamic, within friendships, within romantic, marital and sexual partnerships.
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