Claire King’s The Night Rainbow is about a child, full of life and vivid imagination but who is bravely grappling with the grief of her mother who has lost her baby and husband. Describing their lives in a remote village in France, the author tells the story of a family in the absence of the father, through the eyes of a little girl, Pea.
The storyline is very simple where the older girl Peony or Piony (also Pea) who is just five years old has only her sister, Margot, for company while the mother, an English lady takes to her bed now and then either wracked by grief or recollections of her dead baby and husband. The backdrop of the story is a heavily pregnant mother, always distressed and a father who is dead while the two young children are left to their own devices.
But during one long, hot summer, Pea and her sister play alone in the meadow behind their house, on the edge of their small village. Her mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital, along with the baby they lost recently. Pea’s father has died in an accident and the mother, burdened by her double grief and isolated from the village by her Englishness, has retreated to a place where Pea cannot reach her although she tries desperately to do so.
In the meantime, Pea meets Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does and who always has time to play. Pea believes that she and Margot have found a friend, and maybe even a new papa. But why do the villagers view Claude with suspicion? And what secret is he keeping in his strange, empty house?
Written elegantly and with sensitivity, The Night Rainbow is also the story of two children neglected by their mother as she drowns in her own sorrows and depression and further, worries for the future. Narrated by the little heroine Pea, the author has managed to bring the right balance of naïvety and insight and compels us to hear the voices of the innocent and the unheard. You tend to believe this child narrator as it borders on realism. Claire King has used this technique very beautifully and successfully.
The adult characters are hardly etched in this book, there are not many details except a little bit about Mamman as after all, we are reading the entire story through the eyes of a little girl. Transported to a hot summer season in France, the description of the village, the animals, the insects, the society, the market place, the beach side, the meadows, the house and whatnot, is varied and detailed. However, one aspect that surprises a lot is the age of the main character that is Pea who is just five years old. Her thoughts, actions and words sometimes seemed to be too mature but as you read the book, one gets used to her mannerisms, habits and her feelings.
A delightful book, if you are ready to read it through the voice of a child, as the story unfolds slowly, chapter by chapter through daily outings and daily routine. For a debut book, it is an amazing attempt especially the vivid descriptions of the countryside and its people through a child narrator.