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The Book of Rain

by Thomas Wharton


Thomas Wharton’s ambitious new novel, The Book of Rain, begins with a tech blackout on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. The confused city folk take it as it comes, a break from the monotony of their routines and obligations until normal service has resumed and life carries on. But, in this brief window of time, the birds have stopped singing, and an ominous, all-too-perfect cloud hovers in the sky. Surely the birds will sing again, but what if they don’t?

There is much to absorb in this complex, sprawling, and sometimes puzzling work by Wharton, the author of Icefields and Salamander. The novel plays with form and structure; it shifts into histories and asides that point toward deeper truths, though at times these also distract from a story grounded in a very real and tangible idea: Human beings are not listening to the world – they are perhaps not even suited to it – and, as they try to bend it to their will, they will inevitably bring it all to ruin.

The central narrative follows the Hewitt family, who we encounter as they uproot their lives and drive across Canada for a new beginning in the east. They stop in the town of River Meadows, a place eerily familiar to anyone who has spent time in a prairie boom town at the height of oil sands extraction or in northern mining towns that have struck it “rich.” The ore found in River Meadows is so valuable that it leads to an especially ravenous plundering of the land, even though mining this “ghost ore” seems to cause temporal or metaphysical disruptions, named “decoherences” by the locals. One such event strikes while the Hewitts are eating in a diner, putting young Amery into a kind of coma that forces the family to stay in the town, and unexpectedly settle there. In the years to come, Amery and her brother, Alex, are set on a seemingly fated path that challenges temporal, linguistic, and existential bounds. The young Hewitt girl is forever changed. As an adult, Amery is drawn back to the town years after an environmental disaster caused the region to be cordoned off. When she goes missing inside the restricted lands, Alex, a designer of elaborate games, returns to hunt for his extraordinary and all-important sister.

If River Meadows is the epicentre of these strange events, and the novel itself, there are other intriguing pathways that circle around it and wind back to it. We follow Claire, who was known to the Hewitts in River Meadows, as she travels to a far-flung island nation with unparalleled future-tech. She is there to traffic in the rarest of animal species even as this strange place likewise teeters on the brink of catastrophe, but Claire finds her own link in a chain of events that could prove pivotal in preserving any possible hope for humanity. There are other memorable characters and storylines, mostly linked in some way to River Meadows, the “hole in the heart of the world that is never going away,” and all are part of a bizarre and unpredictable journey to bring forward the titular The Book of Rain, which is of the utmost significance to this story.

It is easy to get waylaid by the novel’s many narrative devices and tangents, some of which walk the line between profundity and absurdity. But the best parts of The Book of Rain revolve around the gravity of our most elemental stories, those narratives set down “like tracks in snow” to show where we’ve gone, where we should never have been, and how light or heavy the marks are that we’ve trod into the world on the way to this tenuous and perilous moment.


Reviewer: Kevin Hardcastle

Publisher: Random House Canada


Price: $35.95

Page Count: 424 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-1-03900-243-2

Released: March

Issue Date: March 2023

Categories: Fiction: Novels