Belgian writer Amelie Nothomb’s surreal novella, “The Character of Rain”, details the early life of a Japan-born Belgian child which is declared, in its earliest days and in the book’s genesis, to be not human but a divine “Tube”.
“In truth, it was the incarnation of inertia, the strongest yet most paradoxical of all forces, emanating from something that doesn’t move. When a body goes limp, when a car pushed by ten strong men refuses to budge, when a child lies in a heap in front of the TV for hours and hours, and when an inane idea continues to exert its noxious influence, one confronts the number, terrifying grip of inertia. Such was the power of the Tube.”
The Tube is described as being in a totally vegetative state for the first two and a half years of its life, unresponsive and ill-defined. With little warning the Tube “wakes up” suddenly – alive, interactive, and fluent. From inert deity to precocious toddler, the unnamed child is alive in its inner world and is clearly an extraordinary being.
“How appropriate that one definition of the Japanese character for my name was ‘rain.’ I, too, was precious and copious, inoffensive and deadly, silent and raucous, joyous and despicable, life-giving and corrosive, pure and grasping, patient and insidious, musical and off-key – but more than any of that, and beyond all those things, I was invulnerable.”
Nothomb’s writing is meandering and yet crisp, fluid yet stark. This novella tempts the reader to superimpose autobiography, as root facts of the “Tube’s” biography mirror the author’s own story. To me, the feeling of autobiography made the fantastical elements of the story more real, dispatching any need to consciously suspend disbelief. In the end, I found this book fantastical and fascinating.