The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay: bookclub event recap

In the beginning, I insisted that I had good reasons to choose ‘The Rain Watcher’ even though I had intentionally not read any reviews, namely;

1. The author is Tatiana de Rosnay (known for Sarah’s Key)

2. A great title ‘The Rain Watcher’ which I found poetical

3. The topic and themes: A French-American family reunion in Paris, the flooding, the love of trees, a family reunion, and secrets to be revealed.

However, I pointed out that in the end, I did not think the book had held to these promises. How so?

Prompting discussion

I had added three questions into the ‘chat’ section of the zoom event, in order to prompt possible discussion.
– Each member of the family has a secret that is revealed throughout the story. What are these secrets? Do you think secrets should be revealed under the same circumstances?
– Linden: do you think that his ‘coming out’ would have been different in an American/Australian/ English family?
– Did you find the descriptions of the Seine flooding realistic?
– The invisible man of the book, Paul. What do we learn about him? What do you think of exposing him through the letters?

Member impressions

Members present gave their impressions of ‘The Rain Watcher’:
1. Elisabeth said she taught a course about French books and films and had had Sarah’s Key in its syllabus. She found this book ‘the Rain Watcher’ interesting for its themes but average and not flawless and that there were too many layers.
2. Sherrie is currently taking French lessons and as a student of French language and culture, she was very much interested but agreed the story was disappointing and it was not great literature.
3. Amy enjoyed a few things, like walking down the streets of Paris along with Linden as she is missing France very much. Also, she is a ‘tree person’. It was a quick read.
4. Susan found the book to be ok, and as a francophile she also enjoyed the Paris description of streets and setting, imagining herself in all the different places described. However, she found most elements of the story over the top, not believable.
5. Beverly has read several books by Tatiana de Rosnay and since she is a gardener and tree person enjoyed the parts played by nature. She thought the book had interesting dynamics.
6. Jane is a ‘new’ Francophile and compared it to Sarah’s Key in terms of drama.
7. Judy enjoyed the book despite its flaws (she could only get the audio version, so it was a first and different experience where she tried to not pay attention to the narrator’s voice) and she liked particularly the description of the trees.

One hour of lively discussion & varied perspectives

During the one-hour non-stop discussion we made many remarks:
In a way, and regarding the present situation, we found the book quite premonitory:
– the doctors overwhelmed,
– the transfer from one hospital to another due to the torrential rain and flooding,
– the impossibility to anticipate the turn of events and to leave Paris,
– the family stuck in Paris, all this looks like ‘déjà vu’ right now.

We also examined the names, which sounded phony for some (could be those of the protagonists of soap opera) but which had not been chosen accidentally. All had a purpose and meaning.

We found there were plenty of inadequacies and improbable situations.
– Telia’s secret for instance, how could her family not know she had spent six months in a coma? How could she look for her friends’ photos on Facebook in 2004?
– Also, there was more to expect from the finding of the box in the tree at the end and it lacked a sense of closure.
– We agreed the relationship between father and son should have been developed in more depth.
– We also wondered what the unexpected arrival of Colin, Mistral and finally Sacha could have brought to the narrative.
-At the same time, we found the secrets themselves were either gory or conventional and expected,
– the chopping of the head,
– Susanne’s horrible murder,
– the aunt’s defenestration, and
– Linden’s coming out and
– the mother’s return of a youth lover.

The Rain Watcher: Movie or soap series?

We definitely could not imagine a movie made of this story, it probably would be better as episodes in a Netflix series!

To conclude, it was obvious that the book was not such a bad pick as there were many things to say from its silences, its flaws, and great potential.

We particularly loved the Paris tour and the precise description of trees and their importance.

A tribute to a special person

I would like on this occasion to pay a tribute to Alisa Bearov Landrum, who passed away at the beginning of June. Alisa was a very active and passionate member, who had attended a face-to-face book club meeting in Paris and had become a friend to many of us, and whose last post for MyFrenchLife was when I made the suggestion for this book, she wrote:

there are so many bad reviews on Goodreads that it makes me want to read it!

Have you read ‘The Rain Watcher’? Do you agree with our commentary? Leave your comments below.

You too can join our MyFrenchLife Private Community Group and our Bookclub on Facebook and/or our Goodreads Group for future discussions. We are currently reading The Years – Les Années by Annie Ernaux – come join us – drop us a note in the comments below.

About the Contributor

Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

After teaching for 20 years abroad, I mostly live now in Paris, where I feel both like a native and an expat. I enjoy being part of My French Life™ as it makes my life in Paris even more meaningful and special. I have a passion for literature and movies. I share my thoughts in my blog and on twitter.”

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  1. Denise Robinette Jul 17, 2020 at 2:25 AM - Reply

    Thank you for posting this recap. I had read this book early summer, 2019. I actually enjoyed it. I agree, I loved walking the streets of Paris. I actually had been in Paris during the flooding of 2016 and 2018. I enjoyed learning the history of the flood in 1910. The theme of secrets…so many secrets in all of the characters’ lifes….probably very realistic to many in our orbits. I loved the tree theme…”a tree is very much alive….it has its own rhythm.” After reading about trees..I spent a lot of of my personal time thinking of trees and how it related to me as an individual. Thank you for selecting this book. I enjoyed rereading my book notes from it. I can’t help to think of some of these themes in my current pandemic light. Thank you again!

  2. Pat Carson Sep 8, 2023 at 10:33 PM - Reply

    I read this book because it was chosen for my book club. Usually I read a book club book twice but I found myself unable to finish it a second time. It was not a compelling enough story, it lacked meaningful character development, the quotes in French at the beginning of sections were irritating to a non-French reader (I did translate them.) and I didn’t feel that the book was particularly well written. I might have found it somewhat interesting if I’d been to Paris. I would not recommend it.

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