It is a death that sets Jonathan Coe’s novel The Rain BeforeIt Falls in motion but in the novel it isn’t always death that is the worst life has to offer. Coe’s story is a family saga where wretchedness begets wretchedness through successive generations.
As a little girl Rosamund is evacuated from London and sent to live on the Shropshire farm of her aunt and uncle. Once there she forms a deep bond with her cousin Beatrix who is horribly emotionally abused by her mother. The repercussions of Beatrix childhood reach out to successive generations.
Years later after Rosamund passes away she leaves a record –literally—of her life on cassettes and in photographs. Rosamund records her stories right up to her death. She wants these things to go to Imogen, Beatrix’s granddaughter and it is up to Rosamunds’ niece Gill as executor to make this happen. Gill has a vague memory of Imogen as the blind woman met years ago at a family gathering. Unable to locate Imogen right away Gill listens to the cassettes.
Rosamund is the character you fall for in The Rain Before It Falls. Her experiences: being sent away from her family during the war, her first true love, attempting to raise Beatrix’s daughter, life for a woman in 50’s and 60’s Great Britian, her life with her companion Ruth and her choice at the end all come together in Coe’s wonderful writing to create a treat of a character. She is what you cling to when the miseries –inflicted by woman—mount up.
The conceit of the tapes, the photographs and Gill’s examination of them all isn’t perhaps the most inventive way for Coe to get his story out there and it does lend itself to some meandering but these are minor points. The Rain Before It Falls is something different for Coe. It’s more touching and less shiny. The keep up with me brilliance of The Winshaw Legacy: Or, What a Carve Up and The Rotter’s Club are set aside in The Rain Before It Falls in favor of a bit more humanity.