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Review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

I have just come back from a few days of holiday.  Always one to travel light, I took just a 10 litre backpack with me, and embarked on a Kindle reading campaign, downloading books I suspected I wouldn’t want to keep, ie those I didn’t necessarily feel a strong affinity for, but which I felt I should read.

I had a go at Niall Williams’s History of the Rain, which was Booker long listed in 2014.  In fact, the title of the Kindle book is History of the Rain: Longlisted for the Man Booker. 

This family history is narrated by nineteen year old Ruth Swain.  Not only is Ruth seriously ill and bedridden, but the landscape of her family’s narrative rolls out across various disastrous landmarks along the way.  Ruth’s own history is that of a clever, awkward, bookish girl from County Clare, and she reminisces about the run-of-the-mill range of stuff that normally befalls clever, awkward girls in books.

The book’s best point is the musicality of the language and the emphasis on the importance of story telling in passing on history.

There is a lot of bog and rain, though.  Almost every scene involves some sort of rot or damp and while I think the story of Ruth’s father, the stubbornly incompetent farmer and his perpetually failing crops, is supposed to be funny, it just made me wince.  Overall, reading the book gave me a very strong impression that I had really been sitting out in the rain, becoming intimately acquainted with its falling.  This is undeniably an effect, but one that has probably left me feeling more ill-disposed towards it than this sweet natured book deserves.

I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has read this and could help me out with some more positive insights!



  1. I haven’t read it but I was sent a review copy! So I’m sort of waiting for someone to make me really want to pick it up… Sounds like I need to wait for a heatwave. 🙂

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