The Character of Rain

Amélie Nothomb

Book cover

I found reading this book to be a pretty unpleasant experience–surprising, as it was recommended by a good friend of mine.

The narrator is a child prodigy who goes from age 0 to age 3 in this book. I found her extremely unpleasant, and two main touchstones came to mind. One was Alia Atreides from the “Dune” novels, who is called “The Abomination” because she is born with the memories and mental capacities of an adult. The sense in which this is an “abomination” was left mostly tacit in the Dune novels, but is illustrated in great detail. There is something unnerving and fundamentally problematic about a child with adult thought processes. The second touchstone was Humbert Humbert, from “Lolita.” The narrator of CoR is just like HH in her view of other people as wholly instrumental and subordinated to her own designs. She has a baroque fondness for sensual pleasures and for ego-stroking, but not for the happiness that comes from authentic relationships. It’s possible that this was an intent of the author, but I also found a second-order unpleasantness in the sense that I was rooting for bad things to happen to a 2-year-old.

I think it’s very possible to read this book as an (unintended) illustration of the problems of self-fashioning associated with Facebook and Web 2.0. (This perspective is largely informed by my reading of the blog “Marginal Utility Annex” by Rob Horning.) Although these specific tools play no role in the story, the narrator subjects herself to the same sort of reflexive subjectivity that Horning calls out as a problem with Web 2.0–rather than simply living her life, the narrator is obsessed with making deliberate choices about her actions to have specific effects on others–most obviously, her deep concern over the question of what her first words would be. (Analogously, e.g., “What bands should I put as my Favorite Music on Facebook?”)

I would have stopped reading this book, except that it was only 130 pages long and recommended by a close friend.

My Goodreads rating: 1 stars