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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 September 2013
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 15 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"We stand in the courtyard and wonder where we will go today, although the answer has been the same for two summers, one winter and a birthday. Our choosing began when Maman came back from hospital last year. She had changed from fat to thin, but she didn't bring back a baby like she promised. She left it at the hospital, along with her happiness".

This is a beautifully written and poignant story and I totally fell in love with Pea. When the story begins we are introduced to the narrator, 5 year old Pea (aka Peony) and her 4 year old sister Margot. Pea has a much older voice for her years and longs to make her mother happy again but nothing seems to make her mother smile. Her mother has suffered a double loss - first her baby and then her partner in a tragic accident and her grief is evident. As a result, Pea and Margot are left to their own devices most of the time and Maman takes no more than a cursory interest in where they go or what they do. Their mother is pregnant again with their late father's baby and she hardly has the energy or the will to look after herself, let alone Pea and Margot.

During one of their games in the meadow, they meet Claude, an older man and his dog Merlin. Claude is treated with suspicion by some of the villagers and seems to be as sad and lonely as they are and as the story progresses, we find out the reason for Claude's sadness. Pea thinks a new daddy will make her Maman happy however is Claude that person? Claude tries to make things better for them and builds a tree house in which he places biscuits and drinks for them to find.

The trust and innocence in Pea's nature is very evident throughout and the reader sees life through Pea's eyes - she doesn't understand why Claude won't give her a hug or why their grandmother doesn't seem to like them. 4 year old Margot is very much the bossy one, again with a much older voice than a 4 year old would have. Pea has such a vivid imagination, always inventing stories and games for them to play and it was only when I was halfway through the book that I realised that the story had a deeper meaning.

I really enjoyed this book, there is a wonderful sense of place and I could actually imagine myself in the French countryside along with Pea and Margot. There were times when I could have cried for Pea - when there was no food, or clean clothes and at times the girls' innocent observations made me smile.

This a wonderful debut novel and I look forward to reading more by this author.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Told from the perspective of five year old Pea, this is a very touching story of a little girl trying so hard to make her mother happy. Pea's mother came out of hospital without the baby that she went in for. Pea knows that this has made her maman very sad and not long after that her papa died in a tractor accident and this made maman was even sadder. Living in France with a dual nationality parents, Pea has the lovely ability of two languages and a different name for herself depending on who is calling her. Pea and Margot spend their days preparing breakfasts and lunches for a grieving mother who rarely gets out of bed. A child's day stretches so far when you are five years old and we spend lots of time up Windy Hill watching the `wing turbines' or in the meadow where the stream is, all the time thinking up things to make her mother happy. The few characters who make up this story are beautifully crafted and enhance Pea's days with their own life tales.

This isn't a book of twists and turns or even a gripping story but it is so richly told surrounding how a child sees their parents grief, without being too morose, and the birth of a new life to bring a sort of finality to that grief. It is a very sweet and enjoyable book with a little bit of a thoughtful twiddle at the end.
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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.
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on 2 December 2016
As O'Farrell says, I too will not forget Pea, the main protagonist in this stunning debut. She is a heroine - a delightful girl who has the heart of an angel and the kindness of a fairy. Her voice is immediately compelling and I was transfixed from the opening page. Although only 5, her voice is endearing, yet fresh, and sometimes so starkly insightful it brings a lump to your throat.

"Margot is like me and she is not like me. I am 5 and a half. Margot is only 4 but she's tall for her age. We both like cuddles and insects and cuddling insects and we both have freckles and green eyes, like Maman, with sparkles of blue and brown. In the sunlight Maman's eyes are kaleidoscopes. Margot and I are the same and not the same, you can tell by our dreams. I am always dreaming about witches chasing me, or picnic days at the beach before all the dying happened - these are the best ones. Margot dreams more about the tiny people that live in the cupboards and have parties on Thursdays, and about jigsaws that make themselves."

"Jigsaws that make themselves" - I love that. So simple, yet so profound. A child's voice but a image that is laden with deeper meaning. This sums up Pea. Pea whose father has died in an accident, whose mother is grieving the recent loss of baby and now, heavily pregnant has neither the physical energy nor the emotional strength to look after Pea and Margot. The girls are left to play in the meadows surrounding their home, inventing games and setting themselves the daily challenge of trying to make their Maman happy again. Their life is a jigsaw of grief, loss, responsibility and worry which Pea and Margot try to put together again with their imaginary adventures.

But despite a life of such a broken jigsaw with missing pieces, this is not a depressing read at all. Pea's voice is strong and her observations of the world around her capture her sense of bemusement, delight and discovery. We are gently immersed back into the world of a young child and invited to see the world from her perspective. King captures the voice of a 5 year old effortlessly. I was convinced from the start.

"That [father's death] was tragic, the priest at the church said so, but afterwards it was a catastrophe."

King has taken a few liberties with the voice but only to enhance the readability of the book. She ensures there are enough nuance and flourishes to remind us that this is a very young child. The conviction of Pea's voice comes from her innocence, naivety, Pea and Margot's struggle to understand the sometimes baffling behaviour of the adults and the lovely way in which a child can observe things yet completely miss their significance.

The girls' quest to find happiness is heartwarming. They want to fix things and their innovative and imaginative attempts to do so are charming and delightful to watch. They use their "cleverness" again and again and the reader cannot help but fall in love with them and will them to succeed.

King also uses metaphors throughout the poetic prose. Her imagery is stunning and there is a real sensory overload throughout the whole book. I was there. I was in France, in the summer, in the sticky heat, in the meadows and in the market place. Every sight, smell, touch or taste is captured and used to enhance the characters, the action and the plot. King also uses the imagery of nests, birds and flight which actually carry much more deeper, hidden meanings as the novel unfolds.

"the summer babies [birds], all thin and wobbly and not as polished as the grown ups. The mother bird...keeps leaving the wire and flies in big circles.....Come on, I think she is saying, flying is easy. But her children edge from side to side on the wire, cocking their heads and looking nervous.......She doesn't [put food into their mouths] anymore. They have to do it for themselves."

The descriptions are perfectly beautiful. Pea's candid and spontaneous descriptions are incredibly effective.

"Maman sits on the sofa, with her feet up on a stool and her plate balanced on top of her belly like a hat. I sit before her, just the tiniest amount of cool space between our warmnesses. It feels like nothing and everything."

"I don't even remember the last time she kissed me, because I never knew I had to."

And then there is the lovely humour which delicately lifts the book and levels any oppression from the enormity of what Pea and Margot are actually handling. For example when a neighbour calls around, Pea and Margot lean out precariously from an upstairs window reasoning:

"Firstly Maman seems really angry and it will be better if we are not there to get under her feet when she has finished her argument and secondly because if we lean out of the window we can see better."

I loved the dialogue and relationship between Margot and Pea. I find myself unable to think of any adjectives that would really do it justice or explain how well captured the dynamics are. They are so absorbed in their world, share so much, teach each other so much and the lovely attempts at assertion and superiority as they jostle against each other to prove their cleverness or competence are delightful, charming and heartwarming. Again, these keeps the tone light and gentle.

Another image that repeats throughout the novel is that of fairy tales, fairies and witches. Josette's house is described as a cottage made of bonbons and cakes and I think the allusion to fairy tales is quite deliberate. We are after all seeing the world through the eyes of a 5 year old and we are also being lulled into a world where reality and unreality become blurred, where we are encouraged - just like Pea and Margot - to make sense of what we are told through stories and made up games.

I really enjoyed the passage at Josette's house where she cuts Pea's hair by placing a bowl on her head.

"Is she going to make you into a salad? says Margot. Or a cake make of hair?"

The repetition of witches and Pea's fear of them reinforces King's exploration of dreams and happy endings. Pea can't articulate what it is she is scared of, she can't verbalise what her pain is or explain it and so she can't acknowledge it. The reader has to read between the lines, between the description, motifs and metaphors and begin to piece together the jigsaw themselves.

At some point I realised just how magnificent King's writing was and just what depth was disguised within the prose. And then towards the end of the novel there is a slight dramatic increase in pace, action and tension. When I finished the book I felt bereft but I also wanted to turn back to the beginning and read it again knowing what I had now learnt about the characters. I think reading it again would bring as much pleasure as the first time and even more appreciation for King's exquisite writing.

This is a story that will overwhelm you with the scent and heat of a summer in France, which will tickle you with the wings of a fairy and entertain you with the escapades of two young girls. It will also encourage you to see the world through new eyes - eyes which at times see things with more perception, frankness and profundity than any adult, while also not seeing the threats, dangers and complexity of what is happening around them.

Not since "Finding Martha Lost" or "The Museum of You" have I fallen in love with such a character like Pea. King's writing reminded me of Carys Bray, Joanna Harris and Jo Baker. Anyone who loves a well crafted, beautifully written tale that is about characters will love this. It's as uneventful as a remote french village highstreet but as colourful as the wild flowers in the meadow, slow like a siesta but as lush and juicy as the ripest peach.

It's a story about the blessings and perils of imagination and truth. It's about innocence, friendship, trust and love. There is grief, there is compassion. I just loved it. A stunning 5* read from me.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"This all began when Maman came back from hospital last summer, but she didn't bring back a baby like she promised, she left it at the hospital, along with her happiness"

This is the beginning of the story of The Night Rainbow, narrated by five-year-old Pea who is accompanied by her little sister Margot. The girls live in an old, shabby farmhouse in rural France with their mother. Maman is doubly grief-stricken, mourning both her lost baby and Pea's Papa who died in an accident. Heavily pregnant again, Maman spends her days sleeping. Pea remembers the time before the lost baby, times when they all lived happily, with games and laughter, family meals and fruit picking.

Those days are quickly slipping from her memory, these days Pea and Margot fend for themselves. Preparing their food, trying to keep the house clean and creating their own world in the meadows, hills, fields and down by the river.

When Pea meets Claude and his dog Merlin, she finds an adult who does not ask difficult questions. Claude loves the countryside as much as she does and creates a secret 'girl-nest' - a den in a tree, with a constant supply of cool drinks and biscuits.

Claire King has created a wonderfully authentic voice in little Pea, her innocence and optimism shine through in the language and the actions. This is a very special story, that narrated in an adult voice would have a very different feel to it. Pea welcomes Claude with no suspicion, unlike the villagers who regard him as something as a mis-fit, despite the tragedy that he has endured. Pea maintains her belief in magic and fairy worlds throughout the story, she has to deal with some difficult and often painful episodes, yet that little-girl enthusiasm and positivity shines through. For an adult reading the story, the underlying issues are clear and often potentially dangerous, however, the use of Pea's voice enables the reader to see events from another aspect - that of purity and hope.

This is a slow-moving story, with no fast-paced action, it gently unfolds to reveal characters who are troubled, realistic and who the reader really begins to care for. The descriptions of the small town in France are incredibly authentic, drawing a vibrant picture of the somewhat insular community.

The Night Rainbow is Claire King's debut novel, and has proved that she is a very talented author. I will look forward to more books from her in the future.
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