Monday, August 4, 2014

book review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

The backstory: History of the Rain is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: Ruthie Swain is home from college after a medical issue arose. She lives in the attic of her family's home, along with over 3000 of her father's books, and she plans to read all of them.

My thoughts: Ruthie is a delightful narrator. She's quite precocious, and at times early in the novel I had to remind myself how young she is, as she also tells her story with the wisdom of an older woman. There's also a boldness as she addresses the reader directly. Perhaps it's why I felt so connected to Ruthie--she speaks right to me in this novel. I adored Ruthie's view of the world. It was both humorous and filled with truths:
"Irish people will read anything as long as it's about them. That's what I think. We are our own greatest subject and though we've gone and looked elsewhere about the world we have found that there are just no people, no subject as fascinating as We Ourselves. We are simply amazing."
Through her father's books, she explores her family history. This story is both an ode to the (fictional) Swain family and its history, as well as to literature itself. As Ruthie tells the story of her family history, she sprinkles the titles of her father's massive book collection in parentheses. For me, many titles were familiar but others weren't. While my ignorance of some titles didn't appear to hinder my understanding or appreciation of the story, I imagine readers familiar with all of the referenced texts will pick up on even more nuances.

Favorite passage:  "We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That's how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told."

The verdict: This novel is a book lover's dream. It's filled with references to literature that illustrate the shared histories of readers. Ruthie was a wonderful character to spend time with, but I found myself enjoying her insights on the world more than her own family's history. Thus my enjoyment of this novel waxed and waned through these parallel narratives.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 369 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy History of the Rain from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Niall Williams's website.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. Book lover's dream! Yesssss! Looking forward to this one.

  2. I didn't know what this one was about until reading your review. I've added it to my wishlist as it sounds perfect for me :)

    1. Sam, I'll be curious to read your thoughts on it!

  3. Sounds intriguing. New author and book for me so thanks for the update.

  4. I'm still sitting on the fence for this one. A book lover's dream yes, but it also sounds a little dull to me. Is there much plot?

    1. There's not much plot, really. There is as Ruthie recounts the tales of her family history, but as she tells it from the present, there is not always the intrigue there could be. It's more writing, literature, and character-driven, but the plot amps up at times.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!