The Night Rainbow – Claire King

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Synopsis from Goodreads:

It is summer in the south of France, and Pea and her little sister Margot spend their days running free and inventing games in the meadow behind their house. But Pea is burdened with worries beyond her five and a half years. Her father has died in an accident, and her mother has just lost a baby. Maman is English, isolated in this small, foreign village, and in her sadness has retreated even further. Pea tries her best to help, makes Margot behave, brings home yellow flowers, but she can’t make Maman happy again. When Pea meets Claude, a man with a dog who seems to love the meadow as she does, she 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? Beautifully written, haunting and full of surprises, The Night Rainbow is a novel about innocence and experience, grief and compassion, and the blessings and perils of imagination and truth.

My thoughts:

“We stand in the courtyard and wonder where we will go today, although the answer has been the same for two summers, one winter and a birthday.  Our choosing began when Maman came back from hospital last year.  She had changed from fat to thin, but she didn’t bring back a baby like she promised.
She left it at the hospital, along with her happiness”.

This is a beautifully written and poignant story and I totally fell in love with Pea.  When the story begins we are introduced to the narrator, 5 year old Pea (aka Peony) and her 4 year old sister Margot.   Pea has a much older voice for her years and longs to make her mother happy again but nothing seems to make her mother smile.   Her mother has suffered a double loss – first her baby and then her partner in a tragic accident and her grief is evident.  As a result, Pea and Margot are left to their own devices most of the time and Maman takes no more than a cursory interest in where they go or what they do.  Their mother is pregnant again with their late father’s baby and she hardly has the energy or the will to look after herself, let alone Pea and Margot.

During one of their games in the meadow, they meet Claude, an older man and his dog Merlin.  Claude is treated with suspicion by some of the villagers and seems to be as sad and lonely as they are and as the story progresses, we find out the reason for Claude’s sadness.   Pea thinks a new daddy will make her Maman happy however is Claude that person?  Claude tries to make things better for them and builds a tree house in which he places biscuits and drinks for them to find.

The trust and innocence in Pea’s nature is very evident throughout and the reader sees life through Pea’s eyes – she doesn’t understand why Claude won’t give her a hug or why their grandmother doesn’t seem to like them.  4 year old Margot is very much the bossy one, again with a much older voice than a 4 year old would have.  Pea has such a vivid imagination, always inventing stories and games for them to play and it was only when I was halfway through the book that I realised that the story had a deeper meaning.

I really enjoyed this book, there is a wonderful sense of place and I could actually imagine myself in the French countryside along with Pea and Margot.  There were times when I could have cried for Pea –  when there was no food, or clean clothes and at times the girls’ innocent observations made me smile.

This a wonderful debut novel and I look forward to reading more by this author.


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