Book Review: History of the Rain, by Niall Williams

Blogging from A to Z: H for History of the Rain
Blogging from A to Z: H for History of the Rain

It is not often that a book appeals just with two lines from the back blurb. But when I read, “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive, or keep alive those who only live now in the telling”, I knew this book held promise. It made me intrigued to know more about “Plain Ruth Swain” and her story.

Why does Plain Ruth Swain have to be trapped in the attic room? No one knows. Not her. Not the doctors. And she puts it in the words of those around her, who, even though she is old enough to hear it, try to keep it subtle, saying “something amiss”, “fine except for falling down” etc. She sees her great grandfather when she can’t sleep, following him as far as up a tree, not him, just a bit of him. Like that, bit by bit, I’m introduced to the family; her grandfather Abraham, her mother Mary, her father Virgil and her aunts. She is also surrounded by something I try escaping into, books. And in those books, she seeks her father, reading her history to us as the rain of County Clare falls on the roof above her.

Some books have to be savored, not processed instantly. They’re like the old cameras. The story, like the negatives (film), takes time to develop. This is one such book. Slowly, we are introduced to the character of Plain Ruth Swain, and we find that she is, after all, not so plain. She is as deep as her precious books make her. From Ruthie, we get so many wonderful, memorable words. The one that captured my attention is just one of many.

“The clock of one day is not the same as another. We invented time to make it seem so, but we know it’s not. Things speed up and slow down all the time.”

What a beautiful way to put it that one day is different from another. From Ruthie, we see that even if we’re trapped physically, we needn’t be mentally. There is an escape that is sweeter than most others, one into the written word. And with that, find a new way of life.

For a moment, if I forget the brilliance of this main character, the story lacks a bit of interest. I’ve not read some of the books in this book, so the book becomes a bit unfamiliar. And the characters around Ruth aren’t as fun as her. I wonder if this is like life. One character would be interesting, but not their world. And the setting doesn’t quite sit well at times either. But those are things that, to me, were lost mostly in the character of Ruth Swain.

The cover design, with words running like a river, made beautiful sense for this novel, and it is one that I would read again someday, just as slowly, just as eager to let the story sink in.


The Bookworm Rates This: 4/5
The Bookworm Rates This: 4/5
Book Details
Title: History of the Rain
Author(s): Niall Williams Genre: Fiction
ISBN/ASIN: 9781408863855 Publisher: Bloomsbury
No. of Pages: 358 Price: Rs. 499

Reviewed for Bloomsbury India, who were kind enough to give me a copy of the book. The views expressed here are my own, frank and uninfluenced.


(© 9th April 2015)

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