on 8 July 2013
I may be an eighty year old man, but I cried like a baby as I read this beautiful book, because it touched every nerve in my body. I think I write with sensitivity about heart-breaking issues myself, but I know I couldn't have written this.
The narrator is the five-and-a-half year old Pea, aided and abetted (and at times provoked) by her four-year-old sister Margot, and yes, as some reviewers have said, the words used are not the ones you would expect from a five-year-old, but it doesn't matter, because the story is being told for adults, and adults need to have the innocence and the emotions of a little girl translated for them; otherwise they don't take it seriously. So Pea speaks with her heart, and the words appear in a form that adults can understand. And who else could have told this story? The mother is too bound up with her depression, her pregnancy and her worries for the future, whereas little Pea is the one who keeps the show on the road and ultimately finds the way forward not only for herself and her sister but for her mother, her grandmother, Claude and Josette, to say nothing of the new baby who, cleverly, is one of the main characters despite not having been born until nearly the final page.
I would be proud to have written this book, and feel much richer for having read it.
on 12 January 2014
This story, told through the eyes of five-year-old Pea, is told with tenderness and fragility. She stays positive, in the way that children do, even though her whole world is crumbling to pieces around her. She doesn't realise the seriousness of her situation. Her father has recently died and her heavily pregnant mother spirals into depression and has stopped taking care of her daughter. Pea eats what she finds and runs around the meadows of Southern France like a wild child until and elderly neighbour, Claude, and his dog, Merlin, take pity on her and provide her with some care of sorts.
Pea has a four-year-old sister, Margot, who accompanies her on all her adventures. Though the reader realises there is something not quite right about Margot, when the truth is finally revealed, it is incredibly clever and touching at the same time.
There are very few adult novels in which children play an important role, let alone the lead role. Yet Pea wins the reader's heart right at the very beginning and doesn't let go all the way to the end. A lovely and original protagonist.
This book should definitely be recognised for the jewel that it is and deserves to be very widely read.
Beautifully written and moving, this novel is easy to read and engaging from the earliest chapters. It is narrated in the first person by five year old Peony, who lives in rural France with her depressed, pregnant mother and her younger sister. Pea is a likeable character and the reader quickly warms to her. I'm not always a fan of first person narrative by children, as it is very rarely done well. I think King does a fine job of it here though - she manages to get the right balance of naivety and insight, and makes the voice realistic without being cloying. Peony comes across as neither too wise nor too stupid, both easy traps to fall into with a child narrator. In fact reading this reminded of what it was like to be and think like a child, which is testament to how successfully the technique works here.
The other characters are well drawn, even the mother who never falls into the realm of cartoon villainy, even through the eyes of a child. She is a potentially a very interesting character, and we don't learn as much about her as we might because of the innocence of the narrator (one of my frequent gripes about first-person-child novels). In fact, we don't really get to know any of the adult characters very well - but that is part of the point and charm of the novel. Small children don't really know or understand even very close and beloved adults, and particularly lonely children like Peony and her sister often live in their own world of imagination. So it's not necessarily a fault of the book. As an adult reader you do feel anxiety throughout the story as you can understand the possible implications of certain events in a way that Pea cannot, but I never lost respect for her as a character and it isn't one of those books where everything is blindingly obvious to the reader and not to the central character. There's also a rather clever subtle twist, which becomes apparent around halfway through the book.
King writes with a very vivid sense of place, and I could visualise the places described easily. She conjures up the heat of a southern French summer, and the atmosphere of a small village populated in equal parts by local people and holidaymakers. In situations like this a child narrator works well as she innocently describes things in a way an adult might not, but which is instantly recognisable and accurate. There are also some moments of humour, but never at the expense of the young narrator. The story could be criticised for being a bit sentimental and possibly even cliché, and some may find that more of a problem than others. I didn't really mind as I felt the quality of the writing and emotional investment I felt in the plight of the central character outweighed any such objections. With the same story told less well I may have found it more annoying.
Overall, this is a great short novel, well written and a good read for anyone who likes to empathise with characters. I would read more by the same author and would be interested to see what other types of novel she can produce. The book reminded me a bit of 'When God Was A Rabbit', although they are stylistically very different, in terms of how it made me feel. Also 'The Earth Hums in B Flat', although that has a much older and arguably more naïve narrator.
on 4 May 2015
I’ll get this out of the way first: reading The Night Rainbow had a profound effect on how I saw my own childhood and the different narratives of my own life. Sometimes you read a book and it does something to the chemical balance of your brain and you go, ‘Oh!’. Reading this book did that to me. It changed my life. Fiction can do this and it's remarkable.
Claire King has written a novel so delicately paced, so beautifully and often ‘innocently’ written that the style and content are often quite in contrast with each other. This in itself shows her skill as a writer and that writing about dark things can be done with a lightness of touch. It would be easy to mistake that lightness of touch with sweetness or sentimentality, but for me there just isn't any of that in this book at all. It is a book about coping, about how children recreate the world around them to make sense of it and to survive. This book deals with brutal things, and yet...
Pea, the narrator, is five and full of everything a child at that age might be: playing, games, food, fun, story telling, making up answers to adult questions she doesn't understand, trusting and blaming herself for things that go wrong due to adults and bad luck. She is funny, kind, sometimes greedy and always wanting to feel love and affection that her mother is unable to give. She longs for human touch, for the unconditional love we all want and need.
Her relationship with her sister Margot is one of mutual nurturing and teasing, kindness and competition. They egg each other on to be brave, to create mischief, to find the answer of how to make their mother happy again when she can barely get out of bed, let alone give them a hug or a kiss or the warmth they both crave. Many of the sisters' interactions are funny and I laughed several times. Their relationship is bitter sweet and necessary for their survival.
I love how King does all this without making the reader hate the mother. Whenever Pea describes her Maman's efforts, I leant forward in hope for all of the main characters. I know Pea's mother was not neglectful due to cruelty, and that added such pathos to the scenes where Pea thinks she is about to be shown love and some terrible accident, such as smashing a glass, makes her mother retreat and Pea feel deep guilt and shame.
Pea blames herself. She believes she and Margot have the power to make her mother happy; if she just finds the right thing, if she just makes herself perfect. This is heart-breaking and I cried several times at the injustice, inevitability and sadness of it.
The writing itself is full of beautiful imagery, delicious food and scenery, and, in fact, creates a sensory idyll that's impossible not to relish. I am one of those people whose best meals have been in books, and this does not disappoint. I would like to visit the farm, would like to go to the meadow. I would like to sit at the table and eat the salads and the pasta and the fruit, and share the bread. The descriptions are specific and often poignant. It's just excellent writing, that perfect combination of plot, style and thought that I long for in a book and won't stop raving about when I find it.
Without giving away plot, there are some terrific twists, and I love how King plays with the readers prejudices about adults and children and leads us down paths which seem predictable but in fact are anything but. The truth of this story is so much worse than what you start imagining. Pea is a very vulnerable child, and whilst the sweetness is there, her mind and body go to some terrifying places, from which, I wonder, how she will ever return from. Who is Pea as an adult and what is her life like?
There is an overall feeling that things will be okay, and towards the end of the novel, events do show that. It's hard to describe the journey Pea and Margot go through, or how brilliantly King shows the hurts and fears of the adults around them through Pea's own, unknowing eyes, but needless to say The Night Rainbow will be one I buy people as a gift for years to come and say, 'You've got to read this!'
It's so good, so deft, so articulate on human emotions, so deep with ideas about trust and loyalty and pain, about what we do when the world around us is too painful to accept or believe, that you'd think it would be hard going and difficult to stomach. It's not. This is a writer whose sentences gleam brightly, brilliant as Christmas; joyful as wrapped gifts and foil-covered sweets, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she writes next.
on 10 April 2014
I read this book on a long holiday last August and I still remember everything about Pea and her struggles. When I look at the cover it brings a smile to my face with fond memories - which have brought me here 8 months later to leave a review. Brilliantly book, unexpected twist (well for me anyway). Great short read. One to keep, will read again when I need to see the world through the eyes of a child, a less scary, care free, uncomplicated kind of world. Look forward to another novel by Claire King.
Pea (short for Peony) is five and a half years old. She lives in a farmhouse in France with her younger sister Margot and her mother (Maman), who's pregnant. Pea's father died in an accident the year before and all Maman's really wanted to do since is sleep so Pea and Margot entertain themselves by playing in the surrounding countryside. It's there that she meets Claude and his dog Merlin. Claude's got a strange face and walks with a limp but he's nice and makes a nest for Pea and Margot to play in. So why do Pea's other neighbours object to her playing with him? And why doesn't he want to be her new papa?
Claire King's debut novel is a sweet but slim tale of grief seen through the eyes of a child. Pea is an utterly delightful character and I completely believed in the games she plays with Margot, albeit the dialogue at times is a little too precocious. I enjoyed the slow reveals of the various secrets although I did guess the twists. I also felt that Maman was a little underdeveloped and would have liked to have seen more interaction with the villagers, especially Josette and Mami Lafont given they are important to the two main storylines. It's a short book and there isn't a huge amount of plot, but the characterisation of Pea goes a long way to offset that and I would definitely check out King's next book.
Pea is front and centre to the story and King gives her a narrative voice that's for the most part convincing (albeit some of the vocabulary at times seems a little advanced). The best scenes in the book are those where she's playing and talking with Margot, whose observations on the world and the adults around them are pertinent and sometimes cutting. Pea's innocence and attempts to help cheer up Maman are at times heart breaking and it's difficult to read this book without feeling critical of the mother (albeit she has good reasons for her behaviour), which is why I think King needed to show more of her isolation and the tension between her and her partner's mother.
The twists are quite easy to guess and this book won't appeal to those who prefer plot-heavy stories. However, it's a well-written, sweetly told tale that stays on the right side of sentimentality.
on 7 April 2014
Loved this beautiful, sensitive, heartbreaking, heartwarming book. Pea is an incredible character, beautifully realized, an amazing little girl. Some of the bits were hard to read, and I was so angry with her mum, but Pea herself makes us see the world in such a positive light, like children do, she lifts even the worst times with her upbeat nature. Highly recommended.
on 8 July 2013
I was looking for something new to read when I stumbled upon this book. It did more than impress me. The author captures the voice of the main character perfectly. I've seen a few complaints that the voice sounds older than the actual age of the narrator, but I don't think that's true at all. I can understand that you maybe wouldn't expect a five year old to express themselves so well, but that doesn't mean the thoughts aren't inside their heads waiting to burst out. In my experience children have very complex thoughts and experiences, and just because you couldn't expect a child to speak to you in this way doesn't mean that a writer shouldn't be able to voice that kind of experience.
This book was a truly refreshing read, touching on some tough topics but doing so in a way that doesn't make the book feel like a public service announcement or overly serious. It really took me to another place while I read it.
on 4 July 2014
The Night Rainbow is a charming and unpredictable book, narrated by the very sweet and imaginative Pea, ably assisted by her even more imaginative – and more than a little precocious – sister, Margot. They, and the rest of the characters, are vivid and memorable, and the story is orginal and beautifully-written.
Pea is five, Margot is four, and they live with their English mother in a small French village. Their father recently died and their mother is too overwhelmed by her own grief to take care of the two little girls. The Night Rainbow takes place over a hot summer, during which time the girls live the lives of much older children. They make their own meals, clean and dress themselves, and spend their days in the meadows and rivers around their home. They make their own entertainment and, when they aren’t letting their imaginations run wild, they plan how to get their mother back to her old self.
But despite their best efforts – picking cheer-inducing yellow flowers, doing the laundry, being extra-helpful – Pea can’t reconnect with her mother, can’t draw her out of her sadness. Pea is remarkably resilient but has increasingly frequent bad days, where her own frustration and sadness and anger overwhelm her. One of the most memorable scenes for me is when Pea finally stops tiptoeing around her mother and releases all her pent-up emotions – it’s a scene that made me proud of this plucky little girl but also incredibly sad.
Aside from Margot, Pea doesn’t have any friends because she doesn’t go to school – but she is curious and polite and friendly with anyone who extends her some kindness. Over the course of the summer, there is one person who is particularly kind to Pea and Margot: Claude, their neighbour, along with his dog Merlin. Claude and Merlin spend almost as much time in the meadows as Pea and Margot, and he indulges their games of make-believe with enthusiasm. But sometimes Claude shuts down when Pea’s questions become too personal, and she is vaguely aware that her other adult friends aren’t especially happy at her new friendship with Claude. What is he not telling her, and does that mean that he can’t be their new papa, as Pea and Margot hope?
The Night Rainbow is beautifully paced and vividly imagined – I felt like I was there in their small cottage, lying in the grass looking at clouds, or running through the meadows with them. The narrative is well-crafted and Pea’s voice is appropriately young and naive but also insightful enough for an adult reader to piece together more about the family’s situation – a bit like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, perhaps. Having said that, it’s the kind of book I hope is never made into a film, because I can’t see how a film would ever do it justice.
This book will tug at your heartstrings, and make you both smile and cry. It will puzzle you and gently surprise you, and it feels both unreal (in the way that stories set in hazy, hot summer days often do) and completely real at the same time. It’s also a story both of sadness and of the simple, everyday joy that only a child can find. It’s really a wonderful debut novel from Claire King, and one that makes me look forward to what she does next.
on 26 February 2014
This has been a book that has been on my TBR pile for a long time, finally I got round to reading it and I am unsure on how to actually rate and review this book. It is like nothing I have ever read before.
This story is told by Pea a five and a half year old girl, I struggled with this concept to begin with, I am a teacher who teaches this age group and some of the vocabulary used I found a little unbelievable, especially by Margot Pea's 4 year old sister. She is very wise for her years and I had to regularly tell myself she was the younger of the two.
I struggled with my emotions through this book, the children just want to make their mother happy and dream up challenges they can do to make this a reality; as since Pea's father died the mother has never really had the time for them. This has left Pea and Margot to their own devises most of the time, which I personally struggled to deal with while reading.
Pea and Margot spend a lot of their time in the meadows, this is where they meet Claud. This also I found was a strange relationship and as an adult, at times I feared for the children and couldn't work out what he was up to. This shows through this novel, how easy it is for a child to trust a stranger and how easy they can be led. Yet again something I found difficult to read.
I don't want to say an awful lot about the plot as it will give it away. I found it hard to get into initially, due to my own struggles with the book I feel. However I also found it a bit slow, from finishing the book I understand why this is the case and why it was necessary to build up the characters and your feelings for them.
Just over half way through the book I had twigged - (this is all I can say without giving it away) but then spent the rest of the book looking for clues. Once I had twigged, yet again my emotions took a turn.
I am finding it difficult to rate this book because of the way it made me feel and how the lasting effect has had on me. I think though this is a brilliantly written story and Claire King has done it justice. If you want something a bit different I would recommend this. I have rated this book as 4* down to the way it has been written and the way the book made me feel.
This was not my usual read, but it was nice to read something a little different.