Published by Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: April 2nd 2013
Genres: Cultural, Debut, Fiction
Pea is a lonely 5-year-old girl living on a farm near a small village in France. Her father died recently and her pregnant mother is overwhelmed by grief, leaving Pea and her little sister, Margot, to take care of themselves. It is summertime so there is much to do and places to explore. A man who seems scary at first turns out to be a neighbor who was in an accident that left his face burned and his hearing almost gone. He seems lonely too, so he and his dog become part of the group, with Pea providing him as much comfort as he provides to her. In this way the summer passes, but as it does the outside world intrudes, with neighbors stopping by and asking questions and the locals staring when they go into the market. Maman gets worse as her pregnancy progresses—bursting into tears, throwing fruit at their tractor and sleeping all day. In an effort to make things better, Pea and Margot give themselves the challenge of making her happy.
Well, Maman is happy mostly when we don’t make a noise, says Margot, and when we do make her breakfast.
Told solely from the perspective of a five-year-old, The Night Rainbow is soft, sweet, scary and immense. Author Claire King so fully inhabits the mind and voice of Pea that the reality of life is both crystal clear and distorted by the child’s perceptions. Pea talks of making lunch and doing the laundry with such nonchalance that it takes until midway through the book that one begins to feel uneasy, that this is not such a happy and sunny life; that something may be very wrong. Even the friendship with Claude, an older man, seems a bit odd and possibly ominous and yet, Pea, in all her childish exuberance is only concerned with the next adventure and how to be a good girl (with limited results). King’s whimsical prose envelops the reader in Pea’s world in a way both charming and haunting.
Sunshine sloshes through the window, brightening my thoughts and warming me into sleepiness. I fly up into my head to play with my thoughts.
Reading The Night Rainbow will take one back to the mystery and magic of childhood. King recreates that world in all its innocence and confusion in a way that comforts and brings back lovely memories of one’s own childhood, even with the undercurrent of the grown-up world and its confusing nuances. Pea and Margot create their own world and even as it is shown to be a less than ideal place, it provides safety from a time when life is too difficult to bear as is.