The Night Rainbow is a wonderfully involving novel that transports the reader to, not only the meadows of France, but also a life of isolation. Everything about Claire King’s debut is questioning and desolate. The reader is left constantly pondering nuances of the melancholy world and the characters. Each member of the cast is a portrait of sadness. They each hold their burdens, none more so than the central character, Pea.
Pea, or Peony, is five and a half years old. Her father died in an accident some time ago and her mother recently lost a baby. Pea is left questioning her world as she explores the meadow surrounding her home with her little sister Margot. One day as the girls are playing they meet Claude, a local man who draws glares from the other villagers. Despite the coldness of his peers, they befriend him and enjoy the company of another seemingly lost soul.
It is unknown at this point what mysteries await the reader, but with a deft hand Claire sprinkles many breadcrumbs down many routes to the possible outcome. And all of these lead through heartbreaking and morose situations. This is because of the presence of Pea. Pea is wonderfully innocent and naïve. She is the definition of a child, with big eyes and a bigger heart. Life for Pea is hard as her mother doesn’t get out of bed or care for her. The reader, of course, sees the signs of depression and sympathises with them both. Margot is Pea’s constant companion and can seemingly do no wrong. This singles out Pea and her activities as a “burden”, or at least, that is how Pea believes her mother sees it.
Claire writes about the missing piece of people’s lives with a sharp accuracy. It is the lost baby and husband that drives Pea’s mother into the darkest places and the loss of her father has pushed Pea into her mind – somewhere that can be confusing for a five year old. The connection with Claude is a welcome one as he becomes a father figure for the girls. There is sweetness to their partnership as Claude builds tree houses for the girls and entertains them. In essence, Claude takes on the reader’s wanted role. There is nothing we can do to shield Pea from the grown up world that is crashing down around her, but we can live through Claude.
King’s talent for writing characters is flawless. She lets enough through to build endearment from her audience but holds a little back each time to keep certain aspects of their personalities a mystery. In this way, we want to know more and not just from the story. Some things are never revealed and there’s a beauty in that, Claire keeps you guessing until the last page. The only downside for me is that the “twist” to the plot was fairly glaring personally. However, despite a strong inkling as to the path of the story, that didn’t stop me from being led down dead-ends.
King’s talent doesn’t just lay in the telling of a story of development of characters, but in transporting the reader, too. The picturesque setting of Southern France in the midst of a heat wave is almost hypnotic. King depicts the nature of such a wonderful place so as to capture your mind and pull it across the miles to the chateaus and villages.
The Night Rainbow takes turns through funny, adorable and heartbreaking. This is a novel that will pull at the proverbial heartstrings and play the Funeral March on them. The bleakness is the allure, it is what grips you and takes you through the meadows, over the streams and into the heart of Pea.
Published by Bloomsbury. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.