Rain Falls on Everyone by Clár Ní Chonghaile Review
As Theo’s story unfolds, the realities of Dublin merge with Theo’s past Rwandan trauma, forging links between two very different lands with two very different histories.
Theo has been living in Dublin for most his life, but he can’t seem to escape the past traumas plaguing him. He is filled with survivor’s guilt for escaping the genocide in Rwanda when his family most likely didn’t. He is filled with the memories of terrible things he saw – but can’t piece together to make sense. Living in Dublin, Theo seems to be caught up in in-betweens. A black kid in majority-white Dublin leaves him wanting to fit in, and leads him into the underground drug world of Dublin, where he’s suddenly caught up in things beyond his control. As Theo’s story unfolds, the realities of Dublin merge with Theo’s past Rwandan trauma, forging links between two very different lands with two very different histories.
Theo’s story resonated with me for a few different reasons. First, because being a woman of colour in present-day Dublin, I have never quite seen a story that merges with my experiences so vividly. Secondly, Theo is probably one of the most enthralling characters I have read in many ways. Despite his many traumas, he pushes on and seems to have a cautiously positive outlook about the people around him. At times during the novel, Theo seems beyond his age (which is 22), but this absolutely works because he is so shaped by the things he has seen, and how he hasn’t been able to deal with it yet. Theo was written as a totally palpable, realistic character.
I also loved the voice of this book. The prose was beautiful, but not in a jarring way that feels disconnected from the book. The prose worked hard to link the two worlds of Ireland and Rwanda together for the reader. When we’re in Theo’s narrative, it’s far too easy for him to slip from the streets of Dublin to his life in Rwanda – and it’s just as easy for readers to travel that distance with him. The voices of the characters are also excellently portrayed. The Dublin accent can sometimes be difficult to put down on paper, but Clár Ní Chonghaile did a wonderful job of capturing it. I was afraid, too, that perhaps the difference between the prosaic voice and spoken voice would create a dissonance, but thankfully, that rarely happened.
Where the book struggles a little is with the minor characters in Theo’s life, of which there are quite a few. They seem to fall into the shadows quite easily – struggling to keep up with the vividness of Theo. This is especially true of Theo’s love interest. The first – Precious – is little known to us, succumbing to being only a love interest who is often referred to in terms of sex or her body. The second – Cara – comes into play right after Precious and Theo break up, making both relationships feel inauthentic and ill-developed.
There is also another interloping story with Theo’s – Deidre’s. The blurb of the book suggests that Deidre and Theo’s friendship is the core plot: “A chance encounter in a restaurant with Deirdre offers [Theo] a lifeline. But Theo and Deirdre’s tender friendship is soon threatened by tragedy.” While their friendship is important to the plot, it doesn’t develop until much later in the story. Their relationship also suffers from seeming inauthentic at times. Though one of the first scenes of the book is Theo and Deidre’s first encounter, their ‘friendship’ seems to come out of the blue, summarised in one of the later chapters and sprung onto the reader, rather than developed slowly over the course of the novel.
Despite its flaws, Rain Falls on Everyone was a brilliant book. It was nuanced and gripping in all the right places. And played on your heartstrings at all the right times.