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The Rain Watcher


The Rain Watcher

Like many other readers around the world, I was first introduced to Tatiana de Rosnay with the publication of her internationally bestselling debut novel, SARAH'S KEY, an unforgettable work that was later made into a film. The movie was decent, but did not come anywhere near the intensity of the book.

De Rosnay has been writing solid fiction and nonfiction in an effort to match the success of her debut. I believe that with the release of THE RAIN WATCHER, she may very well have succeeded. This emotional powerhouse of a novel will leave readers reeling, as it sucks you into the story and never lets you go. The setup is simple enough. The Malegardes, who have not been together in years, are convening in Paris to celebrate the family patriarch, Paul, on his 70th birthday, as well as Paul and Lauren’s 40th wedding anniversary. Intended to be a “no spouses, no children” weekend, the only other attendees are their children, Linden and Tilia.

THE RAIN WATCHER is told from the perspective of Linden, a world-famous photographer who enjoys his dual French-American background and has been living in San Francisco for years. Tilia has chosen London as her home, so it is quite an occasion to get everyone together in Paris. Paul and Lauren live in the countryside of France in a town called Venozan. What makes this book so much more than just an exploration of familial conflict is the humongous elephant in the room --- a seemingly endless rainstorm that threatens to flood most of Paris.

"This emotional powerhouse of a novel will leave readers reeling, as it sucks you into the story and never lets you go."

France has not seen anything like this since 1910. The constant deluge of rain provides a relentless backdrop that makes all the events of the Malegarde family play out like a thriller. As family secrets and drama unfold, the rain and flooding grow as Mother Nature brings about a catastrophic event that will certainly cost many people their homes, businesses and even their lives.

Linden is happy to be back in Paris, which he once called home for 12 years, but wishes the weather would comply. As he starts to reach out to old friends and colleagues after checking into his hotel, he finds many of them wrapped up in preparing to deal with the flood or just escaping the area entirely. De Rosnay does a great job giving us the full backstory on each of the four family members, in addition to their families and current lives. Linden has struggled with his parents accepting that he is gay, while Tilia still bears the mental scars of a tragic car accident in which she had been involved. We learn that Paul has an affinity for David Bowie, and the novel actually opens with an ironic quote from Bowie's tune, “Space Oddity”: “And the stars look very different today.”

Before the reunion can even get started, tragedy strikes. Paul is hospitalized with what appears to be a stroke, and Lauren also finds herself in a hospital bed when the cold she is battling turns out to be pneumonia. This puts a lot of stress on the shoulders of Linden and Tilia, who are dividing their time between the hospital and their hotel --- as the heavy rain continues to fall. As Paul lies comatose, it allows Linden to reflect on their lives together. He thanks his father for giving him a love of nature, particularly trees and the garden he is always so proud of cultivating.

Linden also is reminded of his late Aunt Candice, who is more of a mother to him than Lauren. He also recognizes that he has only ever talked about her unexpected suicide to his partner, Sacha, and did not realize how hard it would be to come back to Paris and once again see the site of her death. He shares all of this with his photography colleague, Oriel, who takes him on a boat ride around Paris as they make plans to potentially get on that very boat as a means of escape, if necessary. Oriel is moved to share how she herself has never gotten over the tragic death of her fiancée, who was one of the 14 people killed during the terrorist attack on Paris cafés in 2015. It is in this real-world tragedy that de Rosnay grounds her story, making the prose that much more powerful.

THE RAIN WATCHER never lets up, and readers will be emotionally spent by the end of it. I love the comparison made by Oriel between the Paris floods of 1910 and what’s going on today. Even though there were so many fewer people living there back then, the tragedy is lessened because they were not caught up in a world where selfies rule and no one checks on their neighbors. 1910 saw people banding together, allowing them to get through these devastating times in a way that the present day is simply incapable of.

The ending is an unforgettable one, as is the entire experience of THE RAIN WATCHER. So much of the emotional connections between the family members stem from their pasts. It is ironic when Sacha is described as always looking ahead with no interest in the past but is fascinated by what the future holds, however dystopian that future may be. This sentiment calls for much reflection, as does all the events described within this deeply layered story of the Malegarde family in the face of the medical and natural threats against their well-being.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 2, 2018

The Rain Watcher
by Tatiana de Rosnay

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250200016
  • ISBN-13: 9781250200013