6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw

Title: The Man Who Rained

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.

Review:

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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9 Comments

  • Jodie
    January 16, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Oh I’m remembering how GWGF worked now, after your comments about the lack of world building. It’s kind of magical realism style, which (for whatever reason) has a common tradition of being shelved as lit-fic, not fantasy (like Gabriel Garcia Marquez). I do wonder why that is, beyond snobbery against full fledged fantasy I mean. Maybe because magical realism seems closer to reality than fantasy to those who don’t read a lot of fantasy and realism is a supposedly high level criteria for entry into the lit-fic circle (although we all know how fudgy and subjective ideas about realism can become in order to slot something into the lit fic bracket).

  • Diana Peterfreund
    January 16, 2012 at 10:34 am

    The decisions about whether a book is published as one thing or another is purely a marketing decision — it has nothing to do with the content of the book. It’s based on how many copies they think they can sell to a particular audience. That is why books can be published as YA in one country and adult in another, etc. If a book is sold to a publisher/imprint with more connections in the lit fic world than in fantasy (like Atlantic) it is likely to be pushed in a certain direction. If they think they can sell a lot of copies of a fantasy novel to people who don’t tend to read fantasy novels (cf. The Magicians or The Night Circus) it will not be shelved in fantasy, or it will be shelved ALSO in fantasy. Same goes for whether to call a book a paranormal romance and shelve it in the romance section or an urban fantasy and shelve it in SFF (cf. Colleen Gleason).

    That’s all it is. There are no rules. There is no checklist. There is no reason except that at some point a publisher made that decision.

  • Suzanne B.
    January 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Oh, well, darn it. The basic premise – a novel about weather! And people who are weather! and magic that is weather-linked – sounds amazing. But the love story aspect, and the fact that it’s yet another insta-love (I read way too many of these over the past year) makes me shy away. Can I request a rewrite, please?

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    January 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Oh, what a shame. I adore the premise of this one (and that cover is so very beautiful). I tend to like a good bit of magical realism or slipstream, so perhaps this one will be more up my alley than yours.

  • Celine
    January 17, 2012 at 3:27 am

    I was just hopping on to make the point that shelving had very little to do with snobbery and more to do with which ever publisher picked up the book and what markets they tend to sell to – but Diana Peterfreund made the point for me 🙂 This sounds very magic realism to me. Magic realism is so so utterly my cup of tea. I’m in!

  • Ana
    January 17, 2012 at 3:36 am

    Thanks for all the comments, folks. This was quite the difficult review to write, to be honest.

    @Diana – Yes, I see your (and Celines’ point) and I agree with them. I guess what I was trying to say (not very well) is how this decision impacts on the reader’s experience of the book. It also has to do with expectations, right?

    Also, I am not entirely convinced that this book is an example of magical realism mostly because there is very little of “realism” here. In any case, magic realism is so NOT my cup of tea. I did have other problems with the book though and that also accounts for the way I felt about it.

    If any of you end up reading it, I would be REALLY interested in hearing your thoughts. 🙂

  • Celine
    January 17, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Oh God shelving most definitely has an impact on expectations. I agree totally. Those readers who pick my books from the YA section of bookstores seem to come at them with completely different expectations/desires than those who pick them from the adult fantasy shelves (especially as they tend to be shelved with high or epic fantasy novels in the adult sections) and this seems to greatly affect how they react the stories/the story telling.

    Will deffo let you know what I think of this baby. Hoping the things that annoyed you in it aren’t too big to spoil my enjoyment (because they are things that would annoy me too) But at least I know what to expect going in! Thanks for the heads up!

  • Kendra
    January 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    This actually made me want to read it. Lack of world building (up to a certain point) doesn’t really bother me in this kind of setting, because to me it’s more magical if you don’t totally understand it.
    I appreciate reviews like this so much where you can tell if the book is for you through the reviewers explanation of the good and the bad.

  • Libby
    January 20, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Have not read it, but I agree that it sounds disappointing, and I also agree with Suzanne that it is a great premise. I just today finished reading, “The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.” Have you read that? It has a lot of similarities to the book that you are reviewing EXCEPT (in my opinion anyway) it is a really great read!

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