The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw
|The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A magical love story, childlike but moving in a properly adult sense. Just imagine REALLY taking the weather with you.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 258||Date: January 2012|
|Publisher: Atlantic Books|
Do you remember being a child who had only just learned how to read? Do you remember the very first time you read a fairy story that no-one had told you before? Can you recapture the joy of entering a truly magical land and (for a time) believing it was real?
No? Then I recommend that you read Ali Shaw's second novel The Man Who Rained.
A classic theme of writing competitions is The Adult Fairy Story. When faced with this, what most amateur writers do is to take one of the traditional tales and update it to the current day, with adults rather than children at the centre and throw in a bit of sex and violence for good measure: although, come to think of it, all of the traditional tales have a fair bit of violence embedded to start with.
Shaw hasn't exactly steered clear of the sex and violence, but he has shunted the sex to the sidelines (a very small incident, without which most of the rest wouldn't hold together as an adult tale) and the violence is right where it belongs.
What he has done is to take a what if… and extrapolated it into THE MOST MAGICAL thing I have read in a long time. What if… you had the weather inside you? What if… the boundary between things and systems and species doesn't actually exist?
Elsa loves bad weather; but then her father was a storm-chaser fuelled by weather he used to say. Before he got himself killed by a tornado. Elsa is not quite so young, but she was confident and happy and gainfully employed and enjoying her life in the big city with holidays in the country with her boyfriend. Then her dad died. And Peter, the boyfriend, did the thing that changed everything.
Elsa has to get away. To do something different. To become herself.
The place she chooses is Thunderstown. An anonymous place at the back of beyond that takes a plane flight and a long drive to reach; it's in a valley surrounded by mountains. It is mining country. Slate. It is a place of superstition and magic. Shaw maintains the anonymity by giving few clues as to where the place might really be. We know it is not in America – there is a time difference of several hours alluded to. But the locals speak English. There are goats. And wild dogs. And a church to St Erasmus. And Betty Munro who Daniel Fossiter loved came from overseas.
Make it where you will. I kept searching back for further clues as to where, exactly where, we were. There aren't any. Isn't that almost the point of a fairy story, that it can be where you want it to be?
Thunderstown was a mining town. Weather has always been a curse. Heavy rains can be deadly in mining country. And things live in the hills, destructive things, strange things and the not so strange. The wild dogs, the goats, the brook horses and Finn Munro.
Most of the townsfolk have either forgotten about Finn, or simply assumed that he left when his mother did. Instead he lives as an outcast in a bothy in the mountains. Daniel Fossiter, the town's hereditary culler, looks after him after a fashion, but the two men have a distance or a barrier between them. And it is Finn that Elsa is drawn to.
How could she not be? She meets him by accident, and by accident she witnesses the secret that drove him into the hills in the first place: the thunderstorm inside him. She should be afraid, as the villagers are afraid, but Elsa's father was a storm chaser: she knows about thunder and lightning.
Like all the best olden tales, Shaw gives us a fable. It is a love story. It is thought experiment about what the world might be, if it were not what we think it is. It is a story about family, the ties that bind and whether they should. It is about superstition and faith and the difference between the two. It is a story about learning from history and hanging on to the past and the difference between the two. It is about fear, and power.
It is told in simple language: unflorid but poetic. The sky had sullied, thanks to the dusty cloud…which had now smeared itself northwards. A wind hummed against the rocky bluff the cottage backed against, coaxing deep eerie music out of the stone.
The characters are few and could be taken from stock: Elsa the heroine, the strange Finn, culler Fossiter standing in for the woodsman, Kenneth Olivier the wise old man, the nun Dot (a kind of fairy godmother)… and of course there is the wicked baron and his hangers on, the gossips, the crones, the peasants. Yet they are also all very much themselves, transmuted into real believable people of their time and place and history. New writers often puzzle over whether the skill is an art or a craft. Shaw displays both. The characters and the plot are well crafted, but then the whole is shot through with the beauty that is art.
More than that cannot be told, because The Man Who Rained needs to be read without knowing too much. It needs not so much to be read as to be discovered, experienced. It needs the reader to be a child again, to suspend all disbelief and choose to believe all things might be possible.
It's fabulous: the most engaging, uplifting and surprisingly emotional thing I've read in a good while.
For more modern fairy tales - although is somewhat lighter vein - try Fup by Jim Dodge
You can read more book reviews or buy The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw at Amazon.com.
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