Tuesday, May 05, 2009

'The Character of Rain'

The Character of Rainby Amélie Nothomb
(Original title: Métaphysique des tubes)
Translated from the French by Timothy Bent
Fiction/Memoir, 2000
St. Martin's Griffin, trade pb, 132 p.
The Japanese believe that until the age of three children, whether Japanese or not, are gods, each one an okosama, or “lord child.” On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of the human race. In The Character of Rain, we learn that divinity is a difficult thing from which to recover.
Amélie Nothomb always seems to have a unique, quirky, often self-indulgent view of life, and this book is no different. The Character of Rain portrays a rather precocious child, Amélie, during the first years of her life in Japan. Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan while her father, a Belgian diplomat, was stationed there. She is well known for writing novels based on her own experiences, “fictionalised memoirs” as I’ve seen them called, and must be taken with a grain of salt. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and accept the exaggeration though, this is an amusing, even touching, story of childhood.

The fact that the story takes place in Japan, and that I could relate to some of her impressions of the Japanese, no doubt added to my enjoyment. I do wonder if I’d have enjoyed this book as much if I weren’t familiar with the culture, and perhaps understandably, it’s her stories about her experiences in Japan that I am most interested in reading about. I wouldn’t rule out reading some more of her other books as well though at some point. There’s something about her style that can either grate or entertain depending on my mood, and that, itself, makes me curious to read more. A slim, quick, and engaging read, it was another good choice for the read-a-thon last month.
Memory has the same power as writing. When you see the word “cat” in a book, it looks very different from the neighbor’s cat with the beautiful eyes. Yet to see the word written gives you a pleasure like the one the cat gave you when its golden gaze was fixed upon you.
First sentence: In the beginning was nothing, and this nothing had neither form nor substance – it was nothing other than what it was.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#25 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Out of the Blue
dovegreyreader scribbles
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. This writer has been recommended to me, though I hadn't heard of this book before. It sounds interesting! I had no idea she was writing fictionalized memoirs.

  2. Hi Nat :)

    I wonder if some of her writing style gets lost in translation. I only read Amelie Nothomb in French. There are so many amusing, sarcastic, quirky turn of frases and stories I do not think they translate well. I read all her books so far, did not like some and laughted at other.

    I agree about THE CHARACTER OF RAIN must be taken with a grain of salt, but again the author plays with words which I do not think are translatable.

  3. Well, you've certainly made me curious! It's so interesting how the tone of a book can be both irritating and entertaining depending on our moods or whatever.

  4. Avis - Not all of her books are fictionalized memoirs, from what I understand, but a lot of them are. They're often very slim volumes so it's easy to try one and see what you think of her style.

    Sylvie - I'm sure some of it does get lost in translation, especially like you said, turns of phrase or playing with words. I'd like to try reading something of hers in French... someday. :)

    Nymeth - I think it comes down to her personality, or at least the one that gets portrayed in her writing. For me, it's often really witty but can verge on arrogant. You'll just have to try for yourself. :P

  5. I loved this book and I love this cover too. I found it to be a very satisfying read. I'm glad to hear your thoughts on the book.

  6. Sandra - I wasn't sure what I'd think of it when I started but I really did enjoy it. And that is a cute cover, isn't it?


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