Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting and trading – and forgetting. But when a young soldier comes to the mountains in search of a legendary creature, Ren is inexorably drawn into an impossible mission. As their lives entwine, unravel and erupt – as myth merges with reality – both Ren and the soldier are forced to confront what they regret, what they love, and what they fear.
A vibrant homage to the natural world, bursting with beautiful landscapes and memorable characters, The Rain Heron is a beautifully told eco-fable about our fragile and dysfunctional relationships with the planet and with each other, the havoc we wreak and the price we pay.
I took a few days out after finishing The Rain Heron to reflect on it before writing this review. I’ve thought about it a lot and the visual imagery generated by this book is very much still with me, as vibrant and clear as it was when I first read the words. I sincerely regret not writing more notes as I worked my way through the book and thought about its intention, but I will try to do this book justice because, believe me, it deserves it.
I’m not usually one for mythology but Arnott’s depiction of the rain heron (the creature around which the story is centered) is so real that it’s very easy to forget that it doesn’t actually exist beyond the pages of the book. The characters and world around them feel incredibly real despite the fact we actually get very little information about the setting. At no point are there any place names or countries mentioned, although I did pick up on a description of cider gums fairly late in the book. Cider gums are trees found in Tasmania, which is the home of the author. Having said that, I interpreted the lack of place names as Arnott’s way of indicating that the story is applicable globally.
“It erupted from the tarn in smooth, splashless flight, heading up in a straight leap to hover effortlessly in the air before alighting on a low branch of the tree. It buried its beak in a wing, flicking water back and forth in neat, sure dips.”
The format of this book is uncommonly readable and appealing. It is split into six parts, opening with a fable-like tale before moving onto the main characters. Each part is split into bite-sized chunks, ranging from a few pages to a couple of paragraphs at a time. This helps to denote the passage of time and gives the book momentum.
Initially, the book changes between the present and the past and reads like a short story collection. However, as the book progresses the characters from the earlier parts come together and their lives interweave. It’s incredibly clever how Arnott manages to hold the reader’s attention during this process. The themes range from the awesomeness of the natural world to its potential for violence and ruthlessness.
“[…] Now he is gone from my darkness. When the rain heron plucked out my eye, it took that scene, too. These days, when I close my eye, I see the woman on the mountain. I see the fever in her skin. I see her broken in my arms. I see my bullet in her throat.”
The Rain Heron takes us on a journey of the commodification of natural resources, specifically the creatures with whom we share the Earth. We see what our world can be if we respect nature and the balance in life which it can provide, and the devastating impact when we decide to exploit it out of pure greed. Arnott does this through stunning imagery which I did not realise someone was capable of putting into words.
This is also a story about people and relationships – how we form relationships, break them down, and our ability to destroy ourselves and what we stand for based on what we think is true. I adored everything about this book. It is captivating, has energy, and totally took me over. I would love to see more people talking about this book; it is truly a gem.
N.B.: This would make a wonderful read for book club. If you choose it for your club, be sure to search out the book club notes which give some very interesting questions about the book. I have not included them here as they contain spoilers.
Many thanks to Atlantic Books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
You can support your local bookshop by buying The Rain Heron through them directly, or via Hive.
What do you think of The Rain Heron? Will you be reading it? Let me know in the comments below.
Wishing you a wonderfully bookish week,