The Rain Before It Falls

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-03-10
  • Publisher: Vintage
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As a young girl, Rosamond is sent to Shropshire to escape the Blitz. Here, in the countryside, she forms a close bond with her older cousin, Beatrix, a young woman haunted by anger and resentment. Sixty years later, just before her death, Rosamond records her memories on cassettes, addressing them to a distant cousina near stranger-named Imogen. As Gill, her beloved niece, listens to these tapes, a heartstopping family saga is revealed. In this masterful portrait of three generations of woman, Jonathan Coe exposes the profound reserves of hope and loss within the lives of ordinary woman.

Author Biography

Jonathan Coe has received the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Prix Médicis Etranger, and, for The Rotters' Club, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for the most original comic writing. He lives in London.


Number three: the caravan.

I have not yet described Warden Farm–the house itself–in any detail, but I think I will talk about the caravan first. It was one of the first things that Beatrix showed me in the garden, and it quickly became the place where we would retreat and hide together. You could say that everything started from there.

Aunt Ivy gave me this photograph herself, I remember, at the end of my time living at her house. It was one of her few real acts of kindness. Beneath her warm and welcoming exterior, she turned out to be a rather distant, unapproachable woman. She and her husband had built for themselves an active and comfortable life, which revolved mainly around hunting and shooting and all the associated social activities which came with them. She was a busy organizer of hunt balls, tennis-club suppers and the like. Also, she doted on her two sons, athletic and sturdy boys–good-natured, too, but not very well endowed in the brains department, it seems to me in retrospect. None of these things, at any rate, made her inclined to expend much of her attention on me–the unwanted guest, the evacuee–or indeed on her daughter, Beatrix. Therein lay the seeds of the problem. Neglected and resentful, Beatrix seized uponmeas soon as I arrived, knowing that in me she had found someone in an even more vulnerable position than her own, someone it would be easy to enlist as her devoted follower. She showed me kindness and she showed me attention: these things were enough to win my loyalty, and indeed I have never forgotten them even to this day, however selfish her motives might have been at the time.

The house was large, and full of places we might have made our own: unvisited, secret places. But in Beatrix’s mind–though I did not understand this until later–it was “their” place, it belonged to the family by whom she felt so rejected, and so she chose somewhere else, somewhere quite separate, as the place where she and I should pursue our friendship. That was why we spent so much of our time, during those early days and weeks, in the caravan.

Let me see, now. The caravan itself is half-obscured, in this picture, by overhanging trees. It had been placed, for some reason, in one of the most remote corners of the grounds, and left there for many years. This photograph captures it just as I remember it: eerie, neglected, the woodwork starting to rot and the metalwork corroding into rust. It was tiny, as this image confirms. The shape, I think, is referred to as “teardrop”: that is to say, the rear end is rounded, describing a small, elegant curve, while the front seems to have been chopped off, and is entirely flat. It’s a curious shape: in effect, the caravan looks as though it is only half there. The trees hanging over its roof and trailing fingers down the walls are some kind of birch, I believe. The caravan had been placed on the outskirts of a wood: in fact the dividing line between this wood–presumably common land–and the furthest reaches of Uncle Owen’s property was difficult to determine. A more modern caravan might have had a picture window at the front; this one, I see, had only two small windows, very high up, and a similar window at the side. No surprise, then, that it was always dark inside. The door was solid and dark, and made of wood, like the whole of the bottom half of the caravan–even the towbar. That’s an odd feature, isn’t it?–but I’m sure that I am right. It rested on four wooden legs, and always sat closer to the ground than it should have done, because both the tyres were flat. The windows were filthy, too, and the whole thing gave the appearance of having been abandoned and fallen into irreversible decay. But to a child, of course, that simply made it all the more attractive. I can only imagine that Ivy and Owen had bought it many years ago̵

Excerpted from The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe
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