The Character of Rain by Amélie Nothomb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Writers create worlds in their books. These worlds may be reflections of the real, physical world, but they do not have to be. The only constraint writers are subject to while creating these worlds is to make them internally consistent (and original and captivating, of course). Amelie Nothomb has created in her books a world in which a little child (in "The Character of Rain" the narrator is Amelie herself at the age between two and three) is fully developed intellectually and emotionally, able to manipulates her parents, reads, and speaks two languages. Of course it is not in any way a reflection of reality, but the world Ms. Nothomb has created is wonderfully consistent and provides a unique point of view for observations of the outside world (the real one - meaning the silly and absurd one).
It is hard not to love the statement "humanity has formed a cult about normalcy". Amelie certainly is not into normalcy. Normal people are born when they are 0 days old. At that age Amelie was just transformed from being a tube into being a God. Her proper birth happened "at the age of two and a half" and she owes the event to her Belgian grandmother or rather to Belgian white chocolate.
To me, "The Character of Rain" is not as powerful a study of childhood as "Loving Sabotage" by the same author, but it is a very good book nevertheless, full of whimsy, wisdom, and humor. It has a few less captivating fragments, but the good parts dominate. There are hilarious bits (for instance, how Amelie names the three carp or how she helps her father during very heavy rain), but there are also moments of great depth. Ms. Nothomb attempts to show how an "it" transforms into an "I" - how the human identity is formed. The sweet and sad thread where Amelie realizes that things are not permanent is deeply moving. Add to that vivid portrayal of some aspects of Japanese culture (as Amelie is born - in both ways - in Japan).
No publisher in the U.S. would attempt to sell a book with the original French title "Metaphysics of Tubes" (Metaphysique des Tubes), so the novel has been retitled "The Character of Rain". I was not happy about the change because the concept of "tubeness" is alluded to at various places and it resonates with me deeply (for personal reasons), but I have to admit that the alternative title is well grounded in the book.
Had I not read "Loving Sabotage" earlier, I would have rated this novel with five stars. Sadly, the four and a half is now rounded down to four.
Four and a half stars.
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