First of all, let me say, Coach House Books has published an exquisite looking book. The pages inside And the Birds Rained Down, are on a cover stock, almost like super fancy stationary. It was a delightful experience to turn the pages, and feel them between your fingers. I’ll admit to caressing them while reading. A very tactile experience I would not have obviously enjoyed had this been read on my e-reader.
I’ll also admit to at first being put off slightly by this title, based on my first impression of what the description had to say: a group of men living their lives in the forest, two pot farmers and then the arrival of two women that will change everything. Pot farmers? Living in the forest? Not my usual cup of tea and it was one of the Canada Reads finalists that I wasn’t too sure if I would enjoy.
Well…just a few pages in and I was completely entranced and captivated by this little story. Beautifully written (and translated) with very compelling characters each with great stories/histories. I couldn’t wait to get back to it at every chance I got. Beautiful language.
Before the start of each chapter, there is a “set up” telling you a little about the character you are about to meet and how he/she fits into the overall story. Because of this it reminded me a wee touch of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (although not for its length, this one is only 160 pages!)
There are many words, sentences, paragraphs that can be included here, but I’ll include this one just as a sample of the beauty, the detail and the imagery found in Saucier’s writing (and Mullins translation):
“The whims of a fire cannot be explained. it can climb the highest peaks, rip the blue from the sky, spread in a reddish glow, swelling, whistling – good god, it can leap onto anything that lives, jump from shore to shore, plunge into ravines soggy with water, devour peatlands, but leave a cow grazing in a circle of grass. What is there to understand? Fire, when it achieves this power, obeys no one but itself.” (p. 57)
“…fire leaves in its wake earth that gasps, trees that slowly bursts into pieces, charred remains that crackle and whistle. How could a child wait quietly for someone to come save him while all around him monsters are stirring in the night?” (p. 58)
And then, comes the point where the title of the book is revealed to the reader, and it washes over you in another moment of beauty:
“The little old lady was a survivor of the Great Matheson Fire. She told her about the sky black as night and the birds that were falling from it like flies. ‘It was raining birds,’ she told her. ‘When the wind came up and covered the sky with a dome of black smoke, the air was in short supply, and you couldn’t breathe for the heat and the smoke, neither the people nor the birds, and they fell like rain at our feet.” (p. 69)
I’m not going to reveal too much about this book, I really want you to pick this one up and read it. It’s exquisite. I want you to discover, in this short little novel, all the grand beauty of the writing and the stories of each of the characters.
I was also a bit confused how this would fit into the 2015 Canada Reads theme, “One book to break barriers”. What could this possibly have to do with breaking barriers? Well, again, just a few pages in and I could easily see how this fit into the theme. My read on this is awareness for the elderly, and their right to live (and die) at their own choosing and to do so with their dignity in place. I’m certain there’s more to it than this, but in general, this was the overall focus and the reason why Charlie, Ted and Tom have chosen to live out their remaining days in the forest. The arrival of the two women are perfectly suited and I do have to say my very favourite character was Gertrude (she then changes her name to Marie-Desneige). Her story and her history made for wonderful reading. And the Birds Rained Down is also a grand love story. 4.5 stars for this exquisite read. I do hope it goes far in the Canada Reads competition!