The Rain before It Falls

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As a young girl, Rosamond is sent to Shropshire to escape the Blitz. Here, in the countryside, she forms a close bond with her older cousin, Beatrix, a young woman haunted by anger and resentment.

Sixty years later, just before her death, Rosamond records her memories on cassettes, addressing them to a distant cousin—a near stranger-named Imogen. As Gill, her beloved niece, listens to these tapes, a heart—stopping family saga is revealed. In this masterful portrait of three ...

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Rain before It Falls

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Overview

As a young girl, Rosamond is sent to Shropshire to escape the Blitz. Here, in the countryside, she forms a close bond with her older cousin, Beatrix, a young woman haunted by anger and resentment.

Sixty years later, just before her death, Rosamond records her memories on cassettes, addressing them to a distant cousin—a near stranger-named Imogen. As Gill, her beloved niece, listens to these tapes, a heart—stopping family saga is revealed. In this masterful portrait of three generations of woman, Jonathan Coe exposes the profound reserves of hope and loss within the lives of ordinary woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Frances Taliaferro
Coe won't allot more lyricism to a character than she can handle, and Rosamond remains the most prosaic member of her family. Yet there is beauty in her narrative, often in her descriptions of timeless landscapes, and there's a depth of human understanding. How interesting, then, that the force of Rosamond's own feelings, some of which she hardly acknowledges, sets the reader to wondering about her reliability as a narrator. But then, as Rosamond herself says, "family life is full of mystery," and a family history may raise as many questions as it answers. For the admiring reader, the question may be whether The Rain Before It Falls is a diversion for Jonathan Coe, or whether it quietly announces a new direction.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
“A triumph . . . from its amazing narrative voice to its satisfying and moving conclusion.” —San Francisco Chronicle“Coe painstakingly builds a psychological mystery evoking the suspense and dread of books such as Ian McEwan's Atonement…. Emotionally overwhelming.” —People “Quiet, elegiac, never straying into sentiment, [The Rain Before It Falls] is perhaps the most spare yet poetic of Coe's novels.” —The Boston Globe“A gripping family drama worthy of Alice Munro.” —Time Out New York "A profoundly moving meditation on misfired relationships, Coe's elegaic seventh novel plumbs the depths of withheld love and emotional austerity among three generations of emotionally dysfunctional women."James Urquhart, Financial Times"Concentrated and controlled [with] a depth of human understanding...for the admiring reader, the question may be whether The Rain Before It Falls is a diversion for Jonathan Coe, or whether it quietly announces a new direction." —Frances Taliaferro, The Washington Post Book World“A novel told in a simple, decent voice is as welcome as it is rare…Absorbing, graceful and melancholy.” —Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain-Dealer“Dignified and sure…Skillfully layered and plotted.” —The Atlantic Monthly“A complex intergenerational mosaic of mothers and daughters.” —The New Yorker“Precise and considered, restrained but unblinking…[Coe’s] tensest and most affecting work.” —Matthew Peters, The Boston Globe“Jonathan Coe’s small masterpiece.” —Regina Marler, New York Observer“Coe articulates a fierce, emotional current whose sweep catches the reader and doesn’t let go until the very end.” —Publishers Weekly
The Barnes & Noble Review
Halfway through Jonathan Coe's haunting novel The Rain Before It Falls, Rosamond, the elderly narrator, recalls a summer day in 1949 when she and her teenage cousin acted as extras in Gone to Earth, a Michael Powell film that was being made in their small Shropshire town. Decades later, when it appears on television, Rosamond tapes the film. "I have watched and rewatched that fragment of videotape," she admits, referring to the crowd scene, "...looking for meaning in those thoughtless gestures, the smiles we exchange, the raising of my hand, the turn of Beatrix's head as she looks away and smiles into the distance, restless, independent."

There is an echo here of Coe's dazzling 1995 novel, The Winshaw Legacy. In that case, the narrator is obsessed and aroused by a naughty scene from a 1950s English comedy that he first saw as a child. Such yearning is a habitual state for Coe's most sympathetic characters, who are often stalled in a past conjured up by the most mundane images -- a holiday snapshot, an old movie. Indeed, a Coe novel often resembles a vintage Alec Guinness film: light as air but cunningly assembled and executed; unmistakably British in its reserve, yet unflinchingly perceptive in its portrayal of England's health, political and domestic. These qualities are wonderfully distilled in The Rain Before It Falls, perhaps the most straightforward of Coe's novels and the most quietly compassionate.

An elegiac opening chapter sets the tone. In Oxfordshire, on an autumn day, Gill and her husband, Stephen, rake leaves onto a garden bonfire. A telephone call brings word that Gill's spinster aunt, Rosamond, has died. Gill must travel to Shropshire to arrange the funeral and her aunt's affairs, leaving Stephen, who cannot accompany her, "as so often, with a sense of having obscurely failed her." We will learn more about this marriage, but only peripherally. Rosamond's past, not Gill's present, is the novel's main concern.

"If the silence of the house and its grounds seemed almost unearthly, the cold inside was even worse," Gill observes when she crosses Rosamond's threshold. "This was a dead person's house." Soon, however, Gill will hear her aunt's voice, not through the ether but on four cassette tapes that Rosamond has left with the scrawled instruction "Gill -- These are for Imogen. If you cannot find her, listen to them yourself." A letter would not have done because Imogen, the long-lost granddaughter of Rosamond's cousin Beatrix, is blind and Rosamond wants to tell her everything, to bequeath, as she puts it, "a sense of where you come from, and of the forces that made you."

When Imogen cannot be found and Gill decides to listen, Rosamond's voice takes over. The dying woman has chosen to describe 20 family photographs, beginning with a snapshot from 1938 or '39 of her childhood home in winter. "Small, unyielding, redbricked houses," Rosamond recalls of her Birmingham street, "You couldn't enjoy much of a life in them." A sifting of snow, the handlebars of her father's bicycle just visible in the narrow passageway leading to the yard, the withered branches of an apple tree overhanging that patch of poor ground -- these few details convey the hardship of wartime Britain, the cramped aspirations of a stoical generation, the comfort of home, the ache of childhood.

Through the snapshot, we enter a shell-shocked world that is further traumatized when the city's children are evacuated to the country. Lucky Rosamond is sent to live not with strangers but with her mother's sister in Shropshire. There, she and Beatrix become blood sisters, and there everything begins. A single childish escapade reveals Rosamond's susceptibility to Beatrix's power, and the resulting punishment foreshadows a greater horror. "It was the first time I had ever heard a mother speaking to her child in a voice so icy with hate," Rosamond says of her aunt, "Sadly it was not to be the last."

There is nothing gothic in the novel's suspense. We are not in the world of Ruth Rendell, not even that of Daphne du Maurier (although Rosamond could be a du Maurier heroine, the watchful innocent set down among passionate and possibly crazy narcissists). Coe can shock, but he does so quietly, incrementally. In this novel only one crime is committed, and while dreadful, it is neither titillating nor grotesque. Before that moment, damage is done with words. This is, after all, a family story.

Each chapter opens with Rosamond's description of a photograph that prompts her recollection of an episode, sometimes slight but always revealing. Hers is an unremarkable life. She is a lesbian who loses the love of her life and settles for companionship. She is a dowdy shop assistant who eventually becomes a secretary, then an editor. Above all, she is a childless woman for whom children, by chance, become a main -- but hardly a rewarding -- concern. First there is Beatrix's daughter, Thea, who is for a time raised by Rosamond; then Thea's daughter, Imogen, whom Rosamond knows all too briefly. That loss is one of many heartbreaks. As the novel advances from 1938 to the present, abandonment and disappointment accrue -- yet Rosamond's quiet voice, surely one of Coe's greatest creations, softens the blows even as it draws us further into her recollections.

Describing a photograph from the 1970s, for example, of Beatrix and baby Thea in their public housing cottage, she muses "The kitchen looks so cramped, in part, because it is dominated by your mother's enormous pram: an absurdly bulky and unwieldy vehicle, about the size of a small family car.... Thea is lying on her back in the pram...her eyes shut tight with a kind of furrowed concentration, as though sleeping is yet another one of the difficult grown-up tasks she must set herself to learn." These children -- Thea, Imogen, Rosamond herself -- must also learn to be resilient. After all, Beatrix's mother, Ivy, is a self-absorbed monster; Beatrix may be a lunatic; and Thea, the only one who pays for any failings, is both victim and perpetrator. For all its bleakness, this is a beautiful novel, with descriptions reminiscent at times of Thomas Hardy's nature poetry. Here is Shropshire, for example: "Trees black and brittle against a grey sky, like charred bones; rough stone walls fuzzy with layers of grey moss; the fields, rising and falling in gentle undulations, English and undemonstrative, and grey as the snow-heavy sky itself." Like Hardy, Coe deftly portrays the muted dramas taking place in that quiet landscape. --Anna Mundow

Anna Mundow writes "The Interview" and the "Historical Novels" columns for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to The Irish Times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307268037
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/11/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.46 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Coe has received the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Prix Médicis Etranger, and, for The Rotters' Club, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for the most original comic writing. He lives in London.
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Read an Excerpt

The Rain Before It Falls

By Jonathan Coe
Knopf
Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Coe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307268037


Number three: the caravan.

I have not yet described Warden Farm–the house itself–in any detail, but I think I will talk about the caravan first. It was one of the first things that Beatrix showed me in the garden, and it quickly became the place where we would retreat and hide together. You could say that everything started from there.

Aunt Ivy gave me this photograph herself, I remember, at the end of my time living at her house. It was one of her few real acts of kindness. Beneath her warm and welcoming exterior, she turned out to be a rather distant, unapproachable woman. She and her husband had built for themselves an active and comfortable life, which revolved mainly around hunting and shooting and all the associated social activities which came with them. She was a busy organizer of hunt balls, tennis-club suppers and the like. Also, she doted on her two sons, athletic and sturdy boys–good-natured, too, but not very well endowed in the brains department, it seems to me in retrospect. None of these things, at any rate, made her inclined to expend much of her attention on me–the unwanted guest, the evacuee–or indeed on her daughter, Beatrix. Therein lay the seeds of the problem. Neglected and resentful, Beatrix seized upon me as soon as Iarrived, knowing that in me she had found someone in an even more vulnerable position than her own, someone it would be easy to enlist as her devoted follower. She showed me kindness and she showed me attention: these things were enough to win my loyalty, and indeed I have never forgotten them even to this day, however selfish her motives might have been at the time.

The house was large, and full of places we might have made our own: unvisited, secret places. But in Beatrix’s mind–though I did not understand this until later–it was “their” place, it belonged to the family by whom she felt so rejected, and so she chose somewhere else, somewhere quite separate, as the place where she and I should pursue our friendship. That was why we spent so much of our time, during those early days and weeks, in the caravan.

Let me see, now. The caravan itself is half-obscured, in this picture, by overhanging trees. It had been placed, for some reason, in one of the most remote corners of the grounds, and left there for many years. This photograph captures it just as I remember it: eerie, neglected, the woodwork starting to rot and the metalwork corroding into rust. It was tiny, as this image confirms. The shape, I think, is referred to as “teardrop”: that is to say, the rear end is rounded, describing a small, elegant curve, while the front seems to have been chopped off, and is entirely flat. It’s a curious shape: in effect, the caravan looks as though it is only half there. The trees hanging over its roof and trailing fingers down the walls are some kind of birch, I believe. The caravan had been placed on the outskirts of a wood: in fact the dividing line between this wood–presumably common land–and the furthest reaches of Uncle Owen’s property was difficult to determine. A more modern caravan might have had a picture window at the front; this one, I see, had only two small windows, very high up, and a similar window at the side. No surprise, then, that it was always dark inside. The door was solid and dark, and made of wood, like the whole of the bottom half of the caravan–even the towbar. That’s an odd feature, isn’t it?–but I’m sure that I am right. It rested on four wooden legs, and always sat closer to the ground than it should have done, because both the tyres were flat. The windows were filthy, too, and the whole thing gave the appearance of having been abandoned and fallen into irreversible decay. But to a child, of course, that simply made it all the more attractive. I can only imagine that Ivy and Owen had bought it many years ago–in the 1920s, perhaps, when they were first married–and had stopped using it as soon as they had children. Inside there were only two bunks, so it would have been quite useless for family holidays.

How many weeks was it, I wonder, before Beatrix and I set up camp there together? Or was it only a matter of days? They say that split seconds and aeons become interchangeable when you experience intense emotion, and after my arrival at Warden Farm I was soon feeling a sense of loneliness and homesickness which I find it impossible to describe. I was beside myself with unhappiness. I would sob quite openly in front of Ivy and Owen–at the supper table, for instance–but never once, to my knowledge, did they think of telephoning my parents to tell them how miserable I was. My distress was simply ignored, by them, by the two boys–by everybody, in short, apart from the cook (who was a kindly soul), and of course by Beatrix. Even she was cruel to me at first. And yet I do think that when she finally took me under her wing, it was because she felt sorry for me, not simply because I was weaker than her, and easy to manipulate. She was lonely, too, remember, and she needed a friend. Beatrix could be a selfish person, at times, there is no doubt about that: I was to see it proved again and again over the following years and decades. But at the same time she was quite capable of love. Rather more than capable of it, I should say: she was vulnerable to it–that would be a better word–deeply, fatally vulnerable. And certainly, I think, during my time at the farm, she came to love me. In her way.

Her way of loving me, in fact, was to try to help me. And her first attempt to help me involved our drawing up a ludicrous plan–a desperate plan–which we resolved to carry out together. We decided that we were going to escape.

During the long afternoons, the lawn stretched out, billiard green, at the front of the house. A narrow, gravelled drive cut through it, but no cars ever used this drive. Almost nobody used the front door at all: only the children–and Beatrix and I especially. It was the back door where the men came to do their business, and so it was the back door that was watched. The cook watched it, from her kitchen, and Ivy watched it, from her bedroom, and Uncle Owen watched it, from his tiny, benighted study. There could be no escape that way. Even at dusk it would be risky–and it was at dusk that we had decided to leave.

That afternoon, sitting alone beneath the low roof, the crazy angles of my bedroom, while Beatrix was downstairs, taking food from the kitchen, waiting until the cook’s back was turned, I thought once more of my own mother and father, at home in Birmingham, going about their ordinary lives. My father riding to work on his bicycle, a gas mask slung over his shoulder. My mother pinning out washing on the line in the back garden, just a few yards from the entrance to the air-raid shelter. These things, I knew, had something to do with danger, with the danger I had been brought here to escape from, the danger that they lived within, now, every minute of every day. And all I could think was that it was not fair. I wanted to share in that danger. It frightened me, yes, but nowhere near as much as this absence, nowhere near as much.

That evening, we waited until the house was quiet, until Ivy and Owen had settled down to a drink after dinner, and the boys had gone upstairs to play, and then we put on our coats and pulled back the heavy latch on the front door and we slipped outside.

She was eleven years old. I was eight. I would have followed her anywhere.

There was a thick dampness in the air, somewhere between mist and rain. The rising moon was three-quarters full, but screened by clouds. There was no birdsong. Even the sheep had fallen silent. We made no noise as we stepped out on to the grass.

Still wearing our school shoes, we scurried over the spongey moistness of the front lawn. We jumped down, over the ha-ha and on to the lower level of the garden, and made for the overgrown gap in the hedge, the opening that led to the secret path; the path that led to the secret place.

She ran ahead; I followed. Her grey school mackintosh, appearing and disappearing between the leaves.

At the end of the path was a clearing, tangled and overgrown with hanging branches and trailing ivy, and within this clearing was the caravan. The cold gripped you the moment you opened the door and stepped inside. The net curtains hung grey and filthy over the windows, ragged with moth holes, blackened with the corpses of flies. There was a small table which folded out from the wall, and two bench seats on either side of it. Nowhere else to sit down. A kettle on the stove, but the gas cylinder was long since empty. From the farmhouse, Beatrix had carried with her a brown bottle, a cork wedged loosely at the top, filled to the brim with cloudy lemonade, and over the last few days, she had been hiding further provisions here. A half-loaf of bread, solid as masonry. A wedge of cheese, Shropshire blue, crusty at the edges. Two apples from the orchard. And three biscuits, shortbread, baked by the cook, and filched from the biscuit tin in the larder at the risk of God knows what dreadful punishment.

“Let’s eat some of this now,” she said; and we set to it, quietly and with great deliberation. I had not been able to eat much dinner and was hungry now even though my stomach was so tightened with fearful anticipation that I could barely force the food down.

There were a few items of cutlery still in one of the drawers, and Beatrix used a fruit knife to cut the bread and the cheese. When we had finished eating, without saying another word, she took my hand, turned it palm upward, and drew the blade of the knife along my tiny forefinger. I cried out, and hot salt tears sprang up in my eyes. But she took no notice. Calmly, she did the same to herself and then pressed her finger against mine, so that the two pools of blood mingled and coalesced.

“There,” she said. “We ’re sisters now. Together. Whatever happens. Agreed?”

I nodded, still without saying a word. What I felt–the thing that robbed me of my voice–was either terror, or love. Or both. Probably both, I think.

“Come on,” she said. “We ’ve got a long way to go tonight.”

We had already packed our clothes and brought them to the caravan the day before. Mine were squashed tightly into the small dun-coloured suitcase my mother herself had first packed a few weeks ago. It was not a practical arrangement, for an escape across countryside. My little knitted woollen toy, a black dog called Shadow, would not fit into the case. I was going to have to carry him. When I picked him up he gazed at me inscrutably, without expression. He was the thing I loved fourth best in the whole world, after my mother, and my father, and now Beatrix.

The light died quickly that night. When we left the caravan and closed the door behind us, the darkness was already absolute. We turned our faces away from the farmhouse and set off into the woods, leaving it behind for ever. Beatrix held my hand. The only sounds were the sounds of our footsteps, the clumsy snapping of twigs.

I know now–at least I think I know, insofar as one can ever know these things–that it was never her intention to take me home. She was old enough to know that two little girls could never walk all the way to my parents’ house. But I did not know that, and I trusted her. And besides, we were blood-sisters now.

We came out of the woods and crossed the last of Uncle Owen’s fields. After that we walked for perhaps no more than an hour, but to me it seemed a hundred lifetimes. Beatrix knew that country well and she chose her route with cunning, describing an almost perfect circle. When we reached the glade where I begged her to rest, we must have been almost back at the farmhouse, but for all I knew, we could have been anywhere.

We lay down, and I clutched Shadow to my chest. The clouds had parted and the moon bathed everything in a quicksilver light. I could not stop shivering. Now I was more tired than scared, and gripped with a clinging despair, but still, there was a kind of beauty all around us. I was aware of that, even then. Beatrix put her arm behind my neck, and I pressed myself tightly against her, and we lay like that, on our backs, staring up at the stars.

“Do you think we’ll get there?” I asked. “Do you think we ’ll get there tonight?” And when she didn’t answer, I framed another question, the one that had been puzzling me the most: “Why do you want to come? Why do you want to leave home?”

“I don’t like my mother and father,” she answered, after a long time. “I don’t think they love me.”

“Are they cruel to you?” I asked.

Again, she didn’t answer.

In spite of myself, I began to grow sleepy. A barn owl was hooting, crying out in the night, very close to us. The trees rustled, the undergrowth was restless with hints of subtle, mysterious life. I could feel the warmth of Beatrix’s body, the pulsing of blood through the arm at the back of my head. Her sensations became mine. The moon continued to rise, and with a flurry the owl launched into sudden flight, skimming away beneath the branches of the trees. The dampness had left the air. The goal I had fixed upon–reaching the city, knocking on the door of my astonished parents’ house–receded and vanished. Despite the cold, I was happy here.

When I awoke, Beatrix was no longer with me. I sat up and looked around me, my heart pounding.

I could see her standing at the edge of the glade, looking out over the moonlit field. Her fragile silhouette. And I could hear voices. Human voices, although they sounded as desolate and unearthly as the low wail of the barn owl. Human voices, calling our names: her name, and mine.

Figures–a whole row of tiny black figures–appeared in the distance, coming towards us across the field. In defiance of the blackout, some of them were carrying torches, and these needles of bobbing light danced like sad fireflies as they made their inevitable progress towards Beatrix, who stood and watched, impassive, trembling slightly, but only with the cold, never thinking to turn and run, as I wanted to. And why should she? She had provoked this moment. She had intended it.

They were coming to find us.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe Copyright © 2008 by Jonathan Coe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Introduction

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of The Rain Before It Falls, Jonathan Coe’s extraordinary novel about the unveiling of one’s family secret history in postwar England.

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Foreword

1. How does the narrative structure of The Rain Before It Falls affect the way readers respond to it? What is the significance of Gill and her daughters being the primary–though not the intended–audience for Rosamond’s spoken narration? In what ways is the “reality” of the novel filtered in its telling?

2. As she is discussing the second photograph, Rosamond offers this aside to Imogen: “There is a reason for everything, in case you haven’t learned it yet, in your short life. In fact, the story I am trying to tell you will demonstrate as much–if I tell it properly” [p. 45]. Does Rosamond’s story succeed in making clear that there is “a reason for everything”?

3. Gill sees Rosamond’s story as the “gradual unveiling of their family’s occult, unsuspected history” [p. 129]. Why does she choose the word “occult”?

4. Rosamond complains: “What a deceitful thing a photograph is. They say memory plays tricks on one. Not nearly as much as a photography does, in my view” [p. 168]. In what ways do the photographs she describes have the power both to reveal and to conceal? What other comments does she make about the nature of photographs throughout the novel?

5. Rosamond tries to help Thea forgive her mother. “Perhaps if words–phrases–gestures–were not enough,” she thinks, “then narrative was what Thea needed” [p. 180—81]. Why does Rosamond think that narrative would have the power to make Thea forgive her mother? What is the power of the narrative of The Rain Before ItFalls?

6. Beatrix is unloved by her mother and proves to be an abusive mother herself to Thea, who in turn shakes her own daughter, Imogen, so violently that she blinds her. What does the novel imply about how familial suffering is handed down from one generation to another?

7. Rosamond says, “[T]he important thing, as I must always remember, is that I describe the picture to you, that I help you to see” [p. 156]. Why is this so important to Rosamond? How is its importance altered in light of the end of the novel, when we learn that Imogen has died and that Rosamond’s words will never reach her, at least in this world? Is Rosamond really speaking to herself–helping herself to see–in her narrations of these photographs? If so, for what purpose?

8. After Imogen is given to a foster family, Ruth tells Rosamond to “wipe the slate clean. Forget them. Forget all of them” [p. 218]. Clearly she has not been able to forget them. Should she have? Of what value are her memories of Beatrix and Thea and Imogen?

9. What role does Rosamond’s own childlessness–and her periods of intense loneliness–play in her relations with Thea and Imogen?

10. Late in the novel, Rosamond says that “life only starts to make sense when you realize that sometimes–often–all the time–two completely contradictory ideas can be true” [p. 215]. What experiences have brought her to this truth? How does it help explain the major characters and their behaviors in the novel?

11. Why does Gill feel, looking back at the extraordinary coincidences that have been revealed to her, that “Nothing was random, after all. There was a pattern: a pattern to be found somewhere…” [p. 238].? Does the novel seem to suggest that there is a grand design governing the apparent randomness of life? What events in the novel would support such a view?

12. At the very end of the novel, Gill seems to be on the threshold of a revelation of the profoundest importance. “Surely she was being offered something precious beyond belief, some supreme revelation. There was meaning in all this…” [p. 240]. What is the significance of her daughter’s distressed phone call’s keeping Gill from receiving this revelation? Is Coe perhaps suggesting that attending to her daughter’s pain is more important than whatever insight Gill might have had?

13. How are readers to understand the novel’s final sentence: “What she had been hoping for was a figment, a dream, an impossible thing: like the rain before it falls”? [p. 240]. Is the narrator suggesting that meaning, in the largest sense, is an illusion?

14. An elderly woman describing and reminiscing about old photographs might not seem like the most promising premise for a novel. How does Coe make The Rain Before It Falls such a fascinating read?

15. Many novels in the past several decades have explored the hidden complexities of family life. What does The Rain Before It Falls add to this exploration? In what ways is it unconventional and unique?

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Reading Group Guide

1. How does the narrative structure of The Rain Before It Falls affect the way readers respond to it? What is the significance of Gill and her daughters being the primary—though not the intended—audience for Rosamond's spoken narration? In what ways is the “reality” of the novel filtered in its telling?

2. As she is discussing the second photograph, Rosamond offers this aside to Imogen: “There is a reason for everything, in case you haven't learned it yet, in your short life. In fact, the story I am trying to tell you will demonstrate as much—if I tell it properly” [p. 45]. Does Rosamond's story succeed in making clear that there is “a reason for everything”?

3. Gill sees Rosamond's story as the “gradual unveiling of their family's occult, unsuspected history” [p. 129]. Why does she choose the word “occult”?

4. Rosamond complains: “What a deceitful thing a photograph is. They say memory plays tricks on one. Not nearly as much as a photograph does, in my view” [p. 168]. In what ways do the photographs she describes have the power both to reveal and to conceal? What other comments does she make about the nature of photographs throughout the novel?

5. Rosamond tries to help Thea forgive her mother. “Perhaps if words—phrases—gestures—were not enough,” she thinks, “then narrative was what Thea needed” [p. 180-81]. Why does Rosamond think that narrative would have the power to make Thea forgive her mother? What is the power of the narrative of The Rain Before It Falls?

6. Beatrix is unloved by her mother and proves to be an abusive mother herself to Thea, who in turn shakes her own daughter, Imogen, so violently that she blinds her. What does the novel imply about how familial suffering is handed down from one generation to another?

7. Rosamond says, “The important thing, as I must always remember, is that I describe the picture to you, that I help you to see” [p. 156]. Why is this so important to Rosamond? How is its importance altered in light of the end of the novel, when we learn that Imogen has died and that Rosamond's words will never reach her, at least in this world? Is Rosamond really speaking to herself—helping herself to see—in her narrations of these photographs? If so, for what purpose?

8. After Imogen is given to a foster family, Ruth tells Rosamond to “wipe the slate clean. Forget them. Forget all of them” [p. 218]. Clearly she has not been able to forget them. Should she have? Of what value are her memories of Beatrix and Thea and Imogen?

9. What role does Rosamond's own childlessness—and her periods of intense loneliness—play in her relations with Thea and Imogen?

10. Late in the novel, Rosamond says that “life only starts to make sense when you realize that sometimes—often—all the time—two completely contradictory ideas can be true” [p. 215]. What experiences have brought her to this truth? How does it help explain the major characters and their behaviors in the novel?

11. Why does Gill feel, looking back at the extraordinary coincidences that have been revealed to her, that “Nothing was random, after all. There was a pattern: a pattern to be found somewhere…” [p. 238]? Does the novel seem to suggest that there is a grand design governing the apparent randomness of life? What events in the novel would support such a view?

12. At the very end of the novel, Gill seems to be on the threshold of a revelation of the profoundest importance. “Surely she was being offered something precious beyond belief, some supreme revelation. There was meaning in all this . . .” [p. 240]. What is the significance of her daughter's distressed phone calls keeping Gill from receiving this revelation? Is Coe perhaps suggesting that attending to her daughter's pain is more important than whatever insight Gill might have had?

13. How are readers to understand the novel's final sentence: “What she had been hoping for was a figment, a dream, an impossible thing: like the rain before it falls”? [p. 240]. Is the narrator suggesting that meaning, in the largest sense, is an illusion?

14. An elderly woman describing and reminiscing about old photographs might not seem like the most promising premise for a novel. How does Coe make The Rain Before It Falls such a fascinating read?

15. Many novels in the past several decades have explored the hidden complexities of family life. What does The Rain Before It Falls add to this exploration? In what ways is it unconventional and unique?

Read More Show Less

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    To hidy

    Hi

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    Posted April 3, 2013

    Hidy

    Im back our book?

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