In 1915, in a French convent turned hospital for soldiers wounded in the Great War, Rain wakes up with a new face. Blown up in the trenches and the only survivor of his regiment, Rain is free to reinvent himself, forget the circumstances that brought him to the hospital, and begin again. His face, permanently scarred and mangled, becomes his buffer to the world, keeping him to a solitary life…but one where he finds his true talent, as a gardener. In his convalescence, Rain starts to assist the old caretaker of the grounds at the hospital in crafting a garden and restoring the grounds. This is only Rain’s first garden: the book follows Rain across continents and countries, to different gardens he shapes, garnering attention for his art. Through all of this, Rain longs for Lily, a girl he first saw through the window at the hospital. Rain and Lily’s lives remain intertwined over the decades, from the convent-hospital to the sets where he builds gardens in Hollywood toward the end of his life. And despite Rain’s undying love for Lily, she sees him only as a friend and rescuer.
This is a sprawling novel, covering a lot of ground and time in what feels like too few pages for the scope of the story. However, Malone doesn’t waste a word here: the novel never feels rushed or draggy, each sentence is measured and contributes to the story. Rain is a sad character, clearly suffering from unresolved trauma from WWI, but is able to mask it with his devotion to the creation of beautiful gardens and his burgeoning success over his life, which brings him wealth, as well connections to movie stars (the fictional Lena Lines, clearly an amalgam of the big stars of the early 1950s). Rain is someone who things happen to, rather than someone who makes things happen, and this can be frustrating as a reader: you see him being used and mistreated by other characters, as well as dealing with the pain of his unrequited love for Lily. Rain is an easy character to love but not an easy character to watch.
I enjoyed The History of Rain very much. Despite its WWI opening and its WWII later setting, this isn’t a classic war novel, following the soldiers or other workers in their lost youth. Rain’s injuries and scars are a matter of course, the payment for shedding his previous identity and following the path where his gardening skills take him. The novel whisks Rain through several settings and depicts the ways we can be changed by our environments, while other parts of us remain the same. An unconventional portrait of an artist, The History of Rain is a quietly moving novel.
Stephens Gerard Malone was a child of military bases and once wallpapered a Toronto apartment with publishers’ rejection letters. He’s the author of five novels, including Big Town, (Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press). His novel of rural angst, Miss Elva, was shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award. While the world-renowned gardens in The History of Rain may be fabulous, his is not. Stephens writes in Nova Scotia with his chow chows, living and remembered.
- Publisher : Nimbus Publishing (Sept. 14 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 232 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771089792
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771089791
Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.