27/08/2010

The Small Rain (by Madeleine L'Engle)

I first came across Madeleine L'Engle when my sons were younger, and I read them her best-known book for children, 'A Wrinkle in Time'. We collected more of her children's books, and in recent years I've started reading and enjoying some of her non-fiction.

However I had not previously read any of her novels for adults. I was pleased to find that we had 'The Small Rain', her first published novel, and have read it in the last few days.

It's about Katherine Forrester, a serious, deep-thinking child (at the beginning of the book) who is determined to be a great pianist like her mother. As the story opens, Katherine is ten years old, appearing in a play with her famous aunt, with whom she lives. She is frustrated that people never seem to tell her anything; in particular, the reason why she has not seen her mother for three years. However they are soon to be reunited.

The novel spans the next eight or nine years of Katherine's life, including bereavement, boarding school, and her first romantic affairs. Written in 1945, it was probably quite shocking in its way, since it does not try to gloss over human nature or fallibility. Katherine's parents are separated, and she begins both drinking and smoking in her early teens. She finds herself in some fairly unpleasant, seedy situations as she grows up, too.

Madeleine L'Engle states in the introduction that this novel is not autobiographical, but that some of Katherine's situations are her own; she sees her as a close sister. It was started when she was in college, and no doubt reflects realistic situations that she would have encountered. Despite having been written sixty-five years ago, the book feels quite up-to-date in its emotional impact, despite being obviously dated in some respects.

I felt that it was a bit long-winded in places, with conversation that didn't entirely flow. Some of the characters seemed a little flat, too. But overall I found it very readable, and finished it quickly. I look forward to reading the sequel, 'A Severed Wasp' at some point.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th August 2010

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