I put down my copy of The Night Rainbow a few days ago and it is still tugging at my heartstrings. Tugging because inside its pages I met a child whose voice, whose world, whose entire existence was so utterly perfectly realised.
We met in southern France in a blisteringly hot summer when Pea – short for Peony – was just five and a half years old. She spent that summer outside, running wild in the country and in her own imagination, with her little sister, Margot, in tow.
Maman stayed inside. She was heavily pregnant and she had withdrawn from the world, since she lost a child late in an earlier pregnancy, since Papa was killed in an accident.
Pea tried to help, tried to be good, tried to draw her mother back into the world, but nothing worked.
As they wandered in the countryside Pea and Margot met a man who had withdrawn from the world too. He was called Claude, and his dog was called Merlin. He took an interest in the girls, he was kind, but he kept a distance.
There is sadness and loss threaded through the lives of Pea, Margot, Maman and Claude. It never quite goes away, but nor does the sense of how wonderful the world is, and what a grand thing it is to be alive.
There’s little that can be said about the story that doesn’t say too much. But I can say that it is beautifully constructed, with gentle twists and turns that are never obvious but always right. And I can say that it is told in a voice that is captivating and so very, very real. A voice that always rang true.
Pea pulled me into her world, and she made me see and feel things as she did. I felt the sun beating down. I saw the parched grass and the meadows full of flowers. I tasted the baguettes that were delivered every morning, the peaches that were there to be pulled from the trees.
And she made me want to be five and a half, to take such delight in the world, to notice so many important things, to be caught in flights of fancy and amusement, to watch the strange ways adults behave from the sidelines, and most of all to have the faith in the world that comes from living in the moment.
But though I saw the magic in Pea’s life I saw the danger too, the loneliness and that neglect. Light and shade.
That made me want to be a grown-up again, so that I could talk to people, so that I could do something to help. I don’t know what, but I had been drawn in, and I cared. Because Pea’s acute childish observation, the wealth of detail, the myriad observations, allowed me to see adult emotions and sitautions that she couldn’t comprehend.
There were just one or two moments when I wondered if Pea was just a little wise, a little too capable for her age. But maybe that was the result of her life and situation.
I was caught up in Pea’s world, and in her life, from the first page to the very last. And she still hasn’t quite let go.
And, of course, for all of this to work so beautifully, there had to be an intelligent and sensitive writer working in the background: Claire King pulled the strings quietly, invisibly, and I am intrigued to see what she might do next.