Title: The Rain Heron
Writer: Robbie Arnott
Publishing House: Atlantic Books
Date of Publication: July 2nd 2020
Rating: 5 stars
”But more curious than this was what they saw next: a huge heron, the colour of rain, suddenly emerging from the flood in a fast, steep flight, leaving not even a ripple on the water beneath it. With a languid flap on its wings it came to rest in the crown of the oak, standing over the unlucky farmer, as if on a guard.”
Somewhere in the wilderness, a woman lives alone in a farm next to oppressive neighbours. Years later, another woman lives in a cave, finding help from a father and his young son. Until the day a squad of young troops comes, led by a young woman who has set off to find a wonder. The great heron that can give birth to rain or make it disappear. As we move back and forth in time, we witness the ordeal of the characters within an unforgiving nature. Within their own troubled selves.
”Frozen, palled days, drained of hope, stacked one upon one another.”
Arnott has no mercy for the reader. In a story that is full of shocking moments of raw power on the verge of brutality, a devastating scene early on sets the pace and we understand that this is going to be a dark, dark journey. In the heart of a harsh landscape, haunted by the haunting nature and their choices, the lives of the farmer, the hermit, the young soldier unfold in perfect prose. The chasing of futile dreams, the hunt for the precious ink, the obsession with the heron. Each individual journey is an Odyssey to control the non-human, to bend it to our will. Each character is a tapestry of fear and vices and ambitions. All controversial to the bone, all fascinating. I was particularly intrigued and impressed by the Northerner and Alec, two crucial figures in Zoe’s story.
”How does it feel to be followed?”
We gradually realize that the world has changed. A coup has taken place and although its traces are evident even within the natural environment, Arnott doesn’t focus on it at all. The central theme of this extraordinary novel lies elsewhere, in my opinion. We desire to control Nature as we control politics, nations. As we THINK we can control Fate. But we are deeply mistaken. We can’t control anything. We can’t even control ourselves…
Who is Ren? What has happened to her? What does Zoe really want? Who is evil, who is righteous? What is the boundary between the instinct of survival, duty and blind violence?
Written like a dark fairy tale, a haunted forest where death has made its home, and with an elegant, careful touch of Magical Realism, The Rain Heron is one of the best, most original novels of the year.
”Ravens called from the trees, deep rasps, long and loud. Ren watched them hope, black patterns in the branches. Pine needles carpeted the ground beneath them, giving way in small glades to grass, stones, fallen branches, thick moss. The light was weak, interrupted everywhere by the trees and their shadows.”
Many thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.