Friday, 16 October 2015
The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe
[The narrator remembers the making of the film Gone To Earth in 1949]
A film crew was coming to Much Wenlock. A real film crew, making a real feature film for the cinemas, with real British and American stars. Yes – American! Because the star of the film – and this was the really unbelievable thing – was going to be Jennifer Jones, who only a couple of years earlier had reduced me to a state of slack-jawed astonishment with her performance in Duel in the Sun…
A notice had gone up in the market hall at Much Wenlock, saying that they needed…lots of extras just to come along and be in some of the street scenes, and anyone could come and take part so long as they were able to bring their own costumes, which should be at least 50 or 60 years old. And Beatrix told me that… somewhere in one of the attic, there were all these trunks and chests full of clothes that had belonged to Ivy’s mother, Agatha, and she was going to go over and look through them and find some dresses that were suitable for both of us to wear, if she could…
commentary: A winding route, related to recent blog entries, brought me here. In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she mentions the author May Sinclair, so I did a blog entry on one of her books, here. Then I was intrigued by Sinclair so tried to find out more about her on the internet – this led me to a fascinating article by Jonathan Coe talking about her and other female authors of the first half of the 20th century. I liked the article so much that I bought a book of Coe’s criticism, and then re-read one of my, and his, favourite Rosamond Lehmann books, The Ballad and the Source. (Coe also loves Echoing Grove, recently featured on the blog, a wonderful book).
He explained in the article linked to above that The Rain Before it Falls was inspired by the Virago books he loved, and indeed just about everyone’s first name comes from a book or an author of the genre (‘semi-forgotten women’s novels, 1900-1960’) or both.
I was already a big fan of Coe’s fiction, had this one in a h/b signed first edition, and read it when it first came out, ie pre-blog days. On this necessary re-read I found that Coe pretty much confounded Clothes in Books with its format: an elderly lady, Rosamond (see?), describes a series of photographs taken throughout her life. She gives wonderful detailed descriptions of the clothes everyone is wearing, but as she is talking about photos and (as Coe has made clear elsewhere) they were real photos of one kind or another, I was stymied on the question of representing them.
It is a fabulous structure though: the voice of Rosamond comes through clearly as she tells the long winding story of herself and her family and her friends, with secrets and mysteries and a variety of different kinds of lost children. There are picnics and skating parties, weddings and holidays, and the film-making mentioned above. It’s quite a melancholy story, and my only slight complaint would be that it could have done with a few more jokes – Coe is a very very funny writer, but you wouldn’t specially know that from this book.
To circumvent Rosamond’s photos, I have used pictures connected to the film instead – it is a real film. Gone To Earth was based on a book by Mary Webb: an author I should have featured on the blog by now but haven’t. Precious Bane is a great novel, and also inspired Cold Comfort Farm, and Webb is one of the authors featured in blog favourite Bestseller by Claud Cockburn.