The sins of the mothers

I love Jonathan Coe's writing. The Rotters' Club was one of my favourite reads of the last few years, and although not as good, I also enjoyed its sequel The closed circle. The Rain Before it Falls is very different to his usual writing. It lacks the satirical edge of his other novels, and readers who are fans of Coe because of his satire, may find this novel a disappointing departure. I however thought it was absolutely beautiful.

This is a very sad tale, but it is interlaced with sharp dashes of Coe's black humour, and it's beautifully written. Jonathan Coe reveals on his webpages that the book was intended, at least in part, as an hommage to Rosamond Lehmann, and he is very successful in this, it does have the feel of something that Lehmann could have written herself.

The novel traces the life of Rosamond, a sort of universal aunt, and is told in retrospect by Rosamond herself, in a series of tape recordings, recorded to be played after her death. It follows her relationship with her cousin Beatrix, the victim of a poisonous relationship with her mother, who in turn oppresses her daughter, Thea. This will lead to catastrophe for the third generation, Imogen.

There is an odd sort of redemption at the end of the book, and the poisonous mother/daughter relationships are contrasted cleverly with the relationship of Gill to her daughters Elizabeth and Catherine, who are the frame upon which Rosamond's story can be hung. Their relationship is very understated, and clearly loving.

Sometimes this novel seems to hark back to an even earlier period in literature than Rosamond Lehmann, the Shropshire countryside and the Auvergne seem to form at times extra characters in the novel, rather in the style of Thomas Hardy, or that chronicler of Shropshire life, Mary Webb.

It's a marvellous moving read veering from comedy to violence to tenderness, well worth reading.


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