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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Luminous Writing About Familial Damage

The Rain Before it Falls - Jonathan Coe

This beautifully written book takes the form of an oral narrative, recorded on a set of cassettes discovered beside the body of Rosamund, an elderly woman who has killed herself rather than let cancer do the job for her. It's the story of Rosamund's entanglement with her cousin Beatrix, a thoroughly self-centred and manipulative individual,and several generations of Beatrix's family.

As Rosamund's niece, Gill, listens to the tapes, she learns of the emotional disaster area that was Beatrix's life and the damage this selfish woman managed to inflict upon the next two generations. At the same time, the poignant narrative of Rosamund's own life - that of a lesbian in the 1950s and 60s - is also recounted.

The title of the book is an image of something liminal and affecting, something that almost exists, but does not quite -like the pattern that Gill glimpses in the unfolding family saga. Before she can grasp the pattern and understand its meaning, however, the glimpse is swept away by the clamorous demands of the present. In places Jonathan Coe's writing has a luminoisty that held me spellbound.