Monday, 8 April 2013
The Night Rainbow by Claire King | The most beautiful book of the year?
The prose is deceptively simple, as the story is told by Pea who is 5 and a half. She and her 4-years-old sister Margot try to make a life for themselves in the aftermath of Papa's death, and their pregnant Maman grieving him and a child she recently lost. In the French summer, the two girls run wild, while Maman is too busy lying down, tending to her own grief to worry about food and clothes for her living children. Pea and Margot's big project is finding a way of making Maman happy again. But she rarely notices their efforts.
Pea might be all but invisible to Maman, but Claude, a man who lives in the neighbourhood sees her and makes small efforts to make Pea's life a little bit better. He brings her cookies, builds her a "girl nest" and plays with her and Margot alongside his dog. But Claude has a past of his own that haunts him, and not everyone finds it appropriate for Claude to spend time with little girls.
Using a child narrator reminds me of Emma Donoghue's Room which was also splendid. But Pea's narrative voice is just so beautiful and poetic, you want to read really slowly and savor the words. It is very hard to even try do this novel justice. It is pure and unadulterated beauty. You have to read it. Here are some quotes just to give you an idea:
Pea on missing hugs: "When Papa was at home things were still OK. He hugged Maman all the time and there were girl-shaped spaces in between their elbows and tummies that I could squeeze into and join in the cuddle."
Pea on Maman's fragile happiness: "I pass [the jam] over, carefully, frightened of breaking her smile."
Pea on blow kisses: "A blown kiss is not a proper kiss. Hugs and kisses should be hugs and kisses, not breaths of air. I am tired of breaths of air and not enough hugs and kisses."
Pea on Claude: "Before the doorbell rings I hear the footsteps, a broken heartbeat on the paving stones, and I know that Claude is here."
Pea is wiser than her years. Her narrative attests to an understanding way beyond words spoken. Between the two of them, Margot is the clever and the brave one, but when Pea is with her, she is also brave. Whenever Claude or anyone else is around, Margot fades into the background.
The novel deals with big themes of grief, love and death. It is so powerful to see these themes through a child's eyes, to try to make sense of all these complex emotions through the seeming simplicity of a child's brain. I think Pea truly has a message that adults can learn from, and every reader will take something different back from reading it.
The Night Rainbow is a breath of fresh air. The cover works perfectly with the book, and once I understood a bit more of what was going on, it made even more sense. I want to keep this book in my heart forever. Pea will certainly stay with me. I hope you take the time out to get to know her also.