BOOK REVIEW: The Rain Watcher, a compelling and beautiful family drama set against a natural disaster in Paris

IMG_0268The Rain Watcher
by Tatiana de Rosnay

I enjoyed The Rain Watcher so much, I was sad to finish it, and I envy those who get to read it for the first time. In the book, Lauren and Paul Malegarde, along with their adult children Tilia and Linden, arrive in Paris in January 2018 to celebrate Paul’s seventieth birthday and the couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary. Their visit corresponds with torrential rainfall and rising levels of the Seine, threatening catastrophic flooding.

As Paris descends into chaos, the fragile bonds uniting the Malegardes fray under the pressure of long-buried secrets and unspoken truths. The eerie silence of the disabled city mirrors the frost that descends on the Malegarde family when they succumb to fear rather than face each other with courage.

The primary characters are loving and compassionate but isolated, generally kind and well-meaning but also selfish and insecure. Though they are flawed and make mistakes and errors of judgement, they are, to me, most of all likable. I wanted to hug Linden and tell him he had my unconditional love.

Both Linden and Paul are well-known, Linden as a photographer and Paul as an arborist. Their professions aren’t just careers; they are ways of orienting themselves in the world. Though they find photography and dendrology, respectively, rewarding and have access to specialized communities, even followers, due to their work, the work also serves as a barrier. Linden quite self-awarely observes that in awkward situations he uses his camera as a literal shield. Paul’s immersion in the natural world seems to put him on an inaccessible plane.

So much is going on in the well-written and lyrical novel, a close read is rewarded. Besides the recurring symbols of trees and cameras, the flooding (and associated weather) not only summons the dangers of climate change and deforestation, it proves Paul’s observation that in a fight with nature, nature always wins. The book emphasizes place, tracing Linden’s relationship with cities and carefully positioning him within Paris through the invocation of arrondissements, neighborhoods, and streets. I think these details would be even more meaningful to someone familiar with the city.

Voyeurism also problematic within the context of the novel, ironic given Linden’s profession. Tourists and Parisians alike swarm to the bridges above the Seine to watch the waters rise. Other instances of tragedy also attract spectators. Though there is a constant witnessing, in person and through social media, there is also the observation that a natural disaster shows that people on the whole are not kind and considerate towards each other.

Most importantly in my mind, characters in The Rain Watcher crave authenticity and to be seen and accepted for who they are. Without it, they suffer. They suffer self-hatred, displacement, depression, and worse. But acceptance and love are hopeful, healing forces. Although the rain can cause flooding enough to drown a city, it can also be a cleansing force that washes away defenses.

This book made me feel gutted. I ached for the characters, for Paris, for the trees. I became attached to the Malegardes which made it all the more rewarding to see their potential for healing but harder to put the book down.

When I first started the book, though, I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did. The topics seemed to change quickly and unexpectedly, and there was some repetition of details that seemed unnecessary. A more significant quirk involved dialog, which De Rosnay treated in what was to my mind an unconventional manner. Instead of a back-and-forth between characters delineated by quotation marks, conversations instead were described. At times, on first glance, it was easy to see these conversations incorrectly as part of the narration from Linden’s point of view. The result was more lyrical but less straightforward prose, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Overall, though, The Rain Watcher touched me deeply, and I feel wistful for the characters who I already miss. I think it will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary literature or literary fiction.

I received an advanced reading copy through a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you Goodreads and St. Martin’s Press!

Most of the chapter epigraphs are in French. I ran them through Google Translate; read them here: The Rain Watcher – Chapter Epigraphs.

I Was a Strange Child

Exhibit A

I had a four drawer filing cabinet in my bedroom during my teenage years. My grandpa subscribed to a few weekly news magazines, and when he had read them, he passed them along to me. I would scour each issue for interesting articles, which I would sometimes read but always tear out of the magazine putting it in its proper place, my own verticle file. I had a folder for beauty tips, relationship advice, and a slew of current events: the Iran-Contra affair, women’s rights, and education among them. This was before the internet, so information wasn’t as easy to access

This was before the internet, so information wasn’t as easy to access. However, I’m not sure I’m any less a hoarder of information now as I was then.

My Illustrious Tennis Career (Or, That One Time I Played Tennis)

B Street Tennis Courts (Ardmore OK)Since I moved my blog to WordPress, I’ve been browsing some of the other blogs on the site. I quickly found The Daily Post which offers blogging tips as well as a daily prompt. The World Cup Games inspired today’s prompt, “Offside Memories,” about funny, harrowing, or notable memories from sports we’ve watched, attended, or played.

Once, I even received an award for sports! When I was in eighth grade, I was on the tennis team. I can’t remember why I decided to sign up. Given my priorities at the time, I likely had friends who played or a crush on a tennis player. Back in fourth grade at Oak Hall, our class did play tennis regularly, but I hadn’t picked up a racket since then. The summer before 8th grade, I signed up for tennis classes.

On one of Oklahoma’s hot, humid summer mornings, I was standing on the court with a group of other students learning how to do a backhand stroke. We must have repeated it 300 times! I’ve never liked being hot or sweaty. I was probably daydreaming about whatever boy was striking my fancy at the time or thinking of how thirsty I was. Suddenly, I was looking up into a circle of faces, some concerned, some devilishly delighted. I had fainted – someone said because I had locked my knees – and fallen like a plank onto the tennis court.

Sure, it could have been worse, but it was bad. My chin had busted open when it hit the ground. One of the coaches took me to the emergency room, but they hadn’t gotten parental consent forms, so the doctors couldn’t treat me. (I think that I single-handedly changed the registration process for tennis classes to include parental consent forms in the case of emergencies.) My mother picked me up and took me to the doctor for stitches, and my aunt Lizzie joined us there. I asked her how bad the carnage was. She replied, “Remember that scene in Poltergeist where the man is tearing the flesh off his face?” The next day, I had to see my dentist for a tooth reconstruction because one of my molars split in two.

Despite that inauspicious beginning, I remained enthusiastic about joining the tennis team. The first step was taking a written exam covering the rules of the game. I earned the highest marks, thank you very much. I’ve always been good with things in theory. In practice, however, I was not a tennis whiz. I remained, to my horror, at the bottom of the ladder all season. I really hated tournaments, though I did enjoy away matches when we’d pile onto the old yellow bus. I also enjoyed my new, chic tennis racket and cute tennis skirt and bloomers. Early in the season, I pulled a groin muscle and was sidelined (to my relief) for a few weeks.

When the season was over, I resolved not to join a school sports team again – and I did not. I also never picked up a tennis racket or played tennis again. It was not my finest moment. My family like to reminisce that, although my tennis career was an undisputable failure, I did receive the “Scholar Athlete” award at the end of the year ceremony. I still feel slightly guilty. I was never really an athlete at all.