They tell you to never judge a book by its cover, but personally I’ve always thought that was ridiculous advice, at least when it literally came to selecting a book. Sometimes it’s the very cover of the book itself that attracts you to it. Walking into the sea of titles and plotlines in a bookstore can be a tad overwhelming, even for a bookworm. There are just so many books to choose from, all battling for your attention. So sometimes, an interesting or nice looking cover is exactly what you need to initially draw you into a story. I was pulled toward Claire King’s debut novel The Night Rainbow because of its cover – with its cool – toned half rainbow and dreamy silhouettes. It was an automatic eye-catcher for me. It was also in a gorgeous hardback edition whenever I first spotted it. It had that solid feel to it that only a hardback book can have. It felt old and lived in, despite having never been read, the sort of book that has that comforting, homely feel to it when you hold it. A glance at the synopsis reassured me that The Night Rainbow was more than just a pretty cover.
It follows the story of Pea and her younger sister Margot as they play their way through a warm, lazy summer in the south of France. After their heavily pregnant mother falls into a deep depression following the death of her husband and another child, they find that they have to fend for themselves. And so with childlike innocence, they meander their way around the darkness that has fallen upon their house, spending the long summer days in the meadow behind it, and try their best to help their mother any way they can. Soon enough, they befriend the elderly and mysterious Claude. He’s kindly, and unlike all of the other adults in the story, takes the time to listen to the adventures of Pea and Margot. But for some reason, despite all his kindness, the people of the village view him with suspicion, and he seems to be hiding a secret in his own home.
The Night Rainbow, despite having a dark and often ominous plotline, is carried along by a wonderfully upbeat narrator. By using a child to narrate her novel as opposed to an adult, Claire King gives the reader a story that is thought-provoking while being light-hearted at the same time. If Pea’s mother or any of the adults in the village had been the protagonist in this story, it would have taken a decidedly different path. Instead, King uses the far more open-minded and imaginative Pea to help lighten the story of her novel, and lift the mood throughout. The author has done a wonderful job of capturing the innocence of a child’s perspective through the character of Pea, and there is something incredibly refreshing about having a child guides you through such a dark story.
In so many ways it is a sugar-coated novel. Pea and Margot are being neglected by their mother, and often it is easy to forget that fact because of how happy and content Pea seems to be at times. She knows something is wrong with their mother, but she is not old enough to discern just how serious the situation really is. She doesn’t realise that their mother isn’t simply sad or angry – she is devastated, and losing herself, and her relationship with her remaining family members, because of the depression that has taken hold of her. The Night Rainbow is a tale of youth and dreamy, hot summers set in a quiet, picturesque little meadow. But it is also a story depicting the devastating effects that grief can have on individuals, and on a family. For all her childlike optimism, it is obvious to tell as you progress through the novel that Pea is desperate for adult attention. She is craving parental love, and it is why Claude quickly becomes such an important figure in both her and Margot’s life.
The Night Rainbow is a lovely read. It’s light and flows well despite a heavy plotline, and has gorgeously descriptive and imaginative language throughout it. The one major plot twist is revealed slowly, falling into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and showing you, page by page, just how heart-breaking Pea’s story really is. It’s the perfect lazy day read, but has a story that will hang around in your mind long after you finish it.