“He said human beings were like a wind blowing. He said that sometimes we’re loud and sometimes we’re a whisper, sometimes we’re warm and sometimes we’re frighteningly cold. But however we blow, we blow onwards, and leave no sign of us behind.”
This was one of my Must Reads last year (2013), and was eagerly anticipated after I fell in love with the author’s first novel, The Girl With Glass Feet. To that novel I awarded an immediate 5 stars, and although I rated The Man Who Rained a 4, I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend.
The story starts with Elsa, on an aeroplane, travelling to a mysterious place she has only ever seen from the air, after flying overhead once before. The death of her father, a storm chaser, and subsequent split from her boyfriend, have led her to seek a new life, and she has chosen Thunderstown as the place to do it. But Thunderstown has secrets, as well as superstitious residents who believe that Old man Thunder, the weather come to life, walks among them.
This is a modern day fairy tale with magic at its heart, and a cast of characters whose attributes will be comfortingly familiar to anyone who enjoyed Shaw’s first novel. Each one is fighting their own personal battles in very different ways, all searching for something without quite knowing what. Elsa cannot get over the death of her estranged father, and has become distant from her mother, moving hundreds of miles away to an unknown place. Kenneth, Elsa’s new landlord,is withdrawn after losing his only child. Daniel can’t forget about the love of his life, who disappeared from Thunderstown several years before, leaving her son behind for him to look after. And then there’s Finn, who lives alone in the mountains, in fear that the storm inside him could hurt the people he loves. They all need someone to help them through their troubles, but the often irrational actions of the town’s other residents serve to prevent them from living the lives they strive for.
The balance between beauty and terror is so well written, though perhaps a bit too melancholy at times. The descriptions of Thunderstown don’t always match up to those of St Hauda’s Land, the fictional setting of The Girl With Glass Feet, however you still get the sense of oppression that is bearing down on the town. Many of the characters aren’t particularly likeable, even the main ones (with the exception of Finn and Dot, a nun and fellow cloud watcher who befriends Elsa), but in a way, that just serves to add to the desperation they all feel in trying to keep their strange little community together, one way or another.
A quirky, contemporary fairy tale that weaves magical realism into the story so well the reader becomes fully immersed in it.