Best Book of the Week!
The distinctive voice of its narrator is what stands out to me about History of the Rain. But again, I feel as if I may not be able to convey just how wonderful I found this lovely novel.
Ruthie Swain is a young girl bedridden from an illness. In her attic bedroom under a watery skylight she is trying to read her father’s thousands of books. She is also writing a novel to try to understand him. During this effort, she writes about Ireland, her village, and the history of her family, especially about the Impossible Standard. Her story incorporates the mythological heritage of Ireland as well as references to countless literary authors and characters and the eccentric residents of her village.
Ruthie’s mother’s family, she says, evolved from salmon, and her mother first meets her father salmon fishing, and is hooked. But that gets way ahead of the story, which in unchronological order recites the history of her father’s family, the story of the Impossible Standard and his evolution into a poet.
To give a flavor of the novel, here is how Ruthie imagines the first time Ruthie’s father Virgil is invited to dinner at her mother’s house:
“So, how do you like it here?”
That exhausts the dialog. She realizes she hasn’t folded the napkins and takes hers and begins to press it in halves. Virgil does the same. Both of them are useless at it. Maybe evenness is a thing intolerable to love. Maybe there’s some law, I don’t know. She lines up the halves of hers, runs her forefinger down the crease. When she picks it up the thing is crooked. So is his. She undoes the fold and goes at it again, but the napkin wants to fall into that same line again and does so to spite her, and does so to spite him, or to occupy both with conundrums or to say in the whimsical language of love that the way ahead will not be a straight line.
She doesn’t give up, and he doesn’t give up. And in that is the whole story, for those who read Napkin.
This novel is funny, heartbreaking, and lovely. It is about the loves of reading and poetry and Ireland and life. I loved this book.