My favourite book of all time is ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier and my list of top 10 novels has remained pretty much unchanged for quite a long time. However, one recent addition to my Greatest Books was Tang Twan Eng’s Booker-Prize winning ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’. It was with some hesitation that I embarked upon ‘The Gift of Rain’, wondering if I would be disappointed after awarding its successor with the highest personal honour I able to bestow! As it turns out, I need not have worried.
‘The Gift of Rain’ is Tan’s first novel and was itself listed for the Booker Prize. This work was one of those rare things for me – a book which seemed to sink into the very pores of my body. Whilst I was reading it, I was completely transported. Even when I wasn’t actually reading it, the images it conjured were still swimming around in my head. When I’d finished reading, I felt as if a constant companion had suddenly vanished from my life.
Set in Malaya in the 1940s, the novel is the story of Philip Hutton, a young man of Anglo-Chinese parentage. Philip forms a relationship with a Japanese diplomat, Hayato Endo, a master in the martial art aikido who undertakes to teach Philip his skills. When war breaks out, the Malay communities refuse to believe that the Japanese will invade their territory. When Philip learns the truth from Endo, his sole aim is to safeguard his family from the malevolence of the occupying forces. His decision to collaborate with the Japanese sets in motion a train of events which distances Philip from the very people he seeks to protect. But the bond with Endo-san cannot be broken. Their destinies are linked from previous lives until the end of time.
This book was an experience for me, not just a good read. It was almost like watching a weaver work on a loom. As the shuttle moves across the threads of the warp, the author lays down the pattern. But it is only as the fabric grows, that the full picture begins to emerge. You have to see the novel in its entirety to appreciate its intricacies. To begin with the book is subtle and slow-moving, but this pace begins to speed until by the last third of the book, you are reading a page-turning thriller.
I’d like to be able to think of a natty phrase to end my review but I can’t think of anything fitting. I simply loved this book.