Author: Ali Shaw
Genre: Officially? Literary Fiction. But this is a Fantasy novel if I’ve ever seen one.
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication date: January 1 2012
Hardcover: 304 pages
When Elsa’s father is killed in a tornado, all she wants is to escape — from New York, her job, her boyfriend — to somewhere new, anonymous, set apart. For some years she has been haunted by a sight once seen from an aeroplane: a tiny, isolated settlement called Thunderstown.
Thunderstown has received many a pilgrim, and young Elsa becomes its latest — drawn to this weather-ravaged backwater, this place rendered otherworldly by the superstitions of its denizens. In Thunderstown, they say, the weather can come to life and when Elsa meets Finn Munro, an outcast living in the mountains above the town, she wonders whether she has witnessed just that.
For Finn has an incredible secret: he has a thunderstorm inside of him. Not everyone in town wants happiness for Elsa and Finn. As events turn against them, can they weather the tempest – can they survive at all?
The Man Who Rained is a work of lyrical, mercurial magic and imagination, a modern-day fable about the elements of love.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: I’ve seen many excellent, positive reviews of The Girl With Glass Feet, Ali Shaw’s first book, although its particular story never really interested me enough to want to read it. However, when this sophomore effort landed unsolicited at my door, I decided to give it a go.
Elsa is kind of lost after her father – a storm chaser- is killed in a tornado. When her boyfriend Peter springs a marriage proposal at her, she decides to break things off, leave everything behind in order to start anew and find out what she really wants in life and so, she makes her way to a little town that has haunted her for years after seeing it from an airplane. Thunderstown is an isolated place, a weather-ravaged backwater, filled with superstitious inhabitants who believe that the weather can come to life. Elsa finds out, as soon as she arrives, that these superstitions might not be as outrageous as they sound when she meets Finn Munro. An outcast hiding in the mountains outside the town , Finn has a thunderstorm inside of him – literally. Elsa is irrevocably attracted to Finn and vice-versa and the two start a relationship that will change their lives. Meanwhile, Daniel Fossiter, the town’s culler and Finn’s only ally, is having problems of his own when he is tasked with bringing Old Man Thunder in – the elusive magical being that is thought to be guilty of all problems the town has with the weather.
The Man Who Rained is a puzzling book and I can’t help but to start with the problem of defining it. In the UK, where it has been published so far, it is shelved as Literary Fiction. But there is a man who turns into rain – not metaphorically but literally. There is the belief that weather can turn into people and at one point it is hinted that there are about 3000 people like Finn in the world at one given time.
The Man Who Rained reads as a romantic fairytale but the elements that make it a fairytale are extremely vague. There are glimpses that magical things happen in the world and that certain people are aware of that. The story is filled with small moments of awe and beautiful imagery like for instance, Finn turning into rain or canaries made of sunshine but these things are not really fully incorporated into the story as part of its world-building. I had several questions that were left unanswered: what exactly makes Thunderstown such a special place? Why do these things happen there? Actually since we are mentioning it, the main plot proposes that the town is ravaged by weather and yet very little in terms of weather actually happens in the book to the town. Who are these people that can turn into weather? Are they aerie spirits, fairies, gods? What in the world, happened in the end?
The conclusion that one reaches is that the story is obviously not really about the world-building, and any Fantasy (and Romance) trappings that exist do not really frame the storytelling. The story is about its people and the characters move the story and this is made very clear by the fact that the story alternates point of view between Elsa and Daniel – not Finn.
The implication then, at least to me, is that novels that focus on characters cannot, possibly be Fantasy or Romance, THE HORROR, despite obvious fantastical and romantic elements, which is utter rubbish of course. Hence the shelving in Lit Fic.
But leaving conflicting definitions and shelving rants aside, The Man Who Rained is competently well-written, featuring a somewhat engaging story that had the aforementioned beautiful imagery and an interesting exploration of “identity” at its core. All three main characters to one extent or the other are searching for personal identity: is Finn a man – what does it mean to be a man, anyway? What does Elsa want for her life? Is Daniel a culler because his entire family – apart from his father – were cullers? Does he have any choice?
Of all characters, Daniel was probably the most fascinating one to me: his struggle to conciliate himself with the ideal of family, tradition and responsibility was absorbing (although not necessarily original).
But beyond Daniel, I had problems with the other two characters. In fact, I would say that Finn as a character was a complete let-down. He was mostly a stand-in to help but Elsa and Daniel develop their arcs and had barely any voice. What a wasted opportunity to explore all the metaphorical possibilities of having someone with a thunderstorm inside!
As for Elsa, her romance with Finn is at the centre of the novel and it is unfortunately, a premium example of insta-love as she barely knows Finn at all before falling in love. I am still not entirely convinced that Elsa was in love with Finn inasmuch as she was in love with the idea of him. More to the point, one of the most important things about Elsa as a character is her connection with her father who was a storm-chaser, how much she loved him and admired (and envied) his connection to the weather. In that sense, it is as though falling in love with Finn actually brings her closer to the memory of her father, in which case (sorry but I got to use this word): ew. That their relationship is fully supported by the text and not ever questioned in those terms is quite troubling and the fact that she spends most of the book in search of an identity and a purpose but ultimately it turns out that what she really wants in life is not a “what” but a “who”? It makes me uneasy because it is as though she is merely defined by the two men in her life. That to me, is a problematic way of writing a female character.
Ultimately, this is a book that left me with conflicted feelings. I can see it has many positive aspects but overall, it was more disappointing than anything else.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
She opened her eyes. The headlights shimmered across nests of boulders and trunks of stone on either side. No grass, only slates splitting under the weight of the car, each time with a noise like a handclap. Eyes closing, opening. The clock moved on in leaps, not ticks. Either side of the road were trees bent so close to the earth they were barely the height of the car, growing almost parallel to the shingly ground. A wind whistled higher than the engine noise.
‘Awake again,’ said Kenneth jovially. But she was asleep once more.
Awake again. The moon lonely in a starless sky. Swollen night clouds crowded around it. And beneath those the silhouettes of other giants.
‘Mountains,’ she whispered.
‘Yes,’ said Kenneth with reverence. ‘Mountains.’
Even at this distance, and although they looked as flat as black paper, she had a sense of their bulk and grandeur. They lifted the horizon into the night sky. Each had its own shape: one curved as perfectly as an upturned bowl, one had a dented summit, and another a craggy legion of peaks like the outline of a crown.
She lost sight of them as the car turned down an anonymous track. The only signpost she had seen in these last few awakenings was a rusting frame with its board punched out, an empty direction to nowhere.
They had followed that signpost.
Rating: 6 – Good but with many, many reservations
Reading Next: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
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