History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Book one on my Man Booker long list read of discovery, History of the Rain was an enjoyable although somewhat anticlimactic experience.

Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, in the margin between this world and the next, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father.
Synopsis from GoodReads.

Ruth Swain is tracking the History of the Rain. As she lay, suffering from a potentially fatal disease, she tracks the history of her family from her Grandfather to the present day. From the events that lead to her suffering, she places together the motivations and feelings of her ancestors to make sense of her present.

‘In these parts to be in a book is still something.’ p.20

History of the Rain is an entertaining, easy read – very, very funny when read aloud. It’s intricate, a book lovers dream. It is laden with literary references which are both brilliant and distracting – especially if you are not as knowledgeable as Ruth. Ruth is so intimate with the fiction she reads, she is knowledgeable beyond the fiction, and forms bonds with the authors. Considering her unwillingness to bond with others it is understandable that books are her solace and guidance.

‘What am I supposed to do with this life? is a common Swainism. It’s just about embedded under the skin and the way the hook is you can’t pull it out, it just makes things worse.’ p.30

At first it seems that Ruth is merely the story-teller, not the next in line to inherit the Swain despair. Especially as at times it feels as though Ruth is idolising the men in her family by telling their story. Yet it is in fact Ruth, not her brother, who is follows the line of Swain.

I am not sure I would have enjoyed History of the Rain half as much had Ruth not reminded me of myself. It was easy to crawl into her mind. I have a tendency to hide myself in literature, and I constantly wonder what I should be doing with my life. Ruth is bored and needs to escape Faha, which is difficult considering she is dying.

As funny and entertaining as History of the Rain is, I am not sure why it is on the Booker longlist. There wasn’t a spark, it hasn’t moved me. I don’t feel as if this book has changed me in any way.

All the same History of the Rain is a beautiful book, swelling with emotion and well worth the reading.

6 thoughts on “Review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

  1. Okay, maybe I will try this one before being done with the Booker list. As long as you don’t think that it’s SO good it will pull my Booker prize allegiance away from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Medium good is just right for me in this context. :p


  2. Interesting, because it sounds the sort of book that would move a reader (though it sounds similar enough to The Blue Room I read recently to influence my thought there). Maybe the fun was deemed enough?


    1. It was moving by the end, but a little to emotionally distant (due to the nature of both the protagonist and her male lineage) to be a deeply emotional story.


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