The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw
When Ali Shaw’s first magical novel, The Girl with Glass Feet was published in 2009, I was drawn to this adult fairy-tale like a Greek sailor to the sirens, nothing could have stopped me reading it. Luckily for me, it was good – very good. Without doubt, it was the best debut I read in 2009, and you can read my review here. After Ali did an event in Abingdon and turned out to be one of the most fascinating authors I’d heard speak, I championed this book everywhere. This meant, for me, that his second novel had an awful lot to live up to…
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Elsa Beletti needs to escape – from the claustrophobia of her city life and her boyfriend. She grew up in the open spaces of Ohio, where her father was a fearless stormchaser; always happier outside, he was ultimately killed in a tornado.
She’d seen it as a kid, when an afternoon storm had lifted the gutter of the ranch’s barn, twirled it in the air like a baton, then flicked it at him. It broke his leg. Being holed up in the house while it healed made him catatonic. ‘I’m weather-powered, see,’ he mumbled once, and it was the best way to describe him.
Elsa is drawn to a small settlement nestled amongst the mountains that she’d spied from an aeroplane window once. Thunderstown is isolated, it’s a trek to get there, but she’s not alone in having found this backwater which is surrounded by weather.
The residents of the town are a real mixture – good and bad, traditional and modernising, jobsworth and helpful. Almost all of them however, are superstitious about the town’s legendary Old Man Thunder – except Daniel Fossiter, the town’s ‘culler’ (whose job is to keep the local wild goat population in check), he has reason to think differently.
One day Elsa goes hiking in the mountains, and meets a young man with rain in his veins and a thunderstorm inside him. Finn Munro is an outcast who lives alone on the mountain, and it’s love at first sight. However there are many obstacles and a world of weather in the way to make this relationship one that can run smoothly…
From the first page, I was taken once again, into Shaw’s world-vision. In his hands magic is entirely natural, for those that embrace it, that is. For those who don’t believe, it is unexplainable and to be feared, which sets up the central conflict which powers the plot. This organic and robust approach to magic is essential in this kind of adult fairy-tale, showing both cause and effect which adds authenticity, and Shaw gets that just right with his descriptive imagery.
He handles the non-magical folk well too, they’re all believable, from kindly Kenneth, Elsa’s landlord – a cricket-loving West Indian, and Dot, a nun who looks after those touched by lightning to the rather scary council leader Abe Cosser, who always gives Daniel a hard time.
If I hadn’t read The Girl with Glass Feet first, I would have been totally wowed by The Man Who Rained. Don’t get me wrong, I did love this book too, but felt it was not quite different enough from his debut. Both featured magical people, small town locations, and both had heroines who were lured there to find themselves – I was just expecting something else.
Difficult second novel? Definitely not!
The Man Who Rained is engaging, beautiful and a fabulous read. I can’t wait for what he comes up with next. (9/10).