Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: A Walk in the Rain by Alison Barnard

A Walk in the Rain by Alison Barnard  is a romance between an actress and a famous composer. It's very well written, actually edited properly, and features a delightful musical spin. Also, oh my library gods, the Amazon description is awful. Don't pay any attention to it.

Jessa is a reclusive, workaholic, insecure, genius classical composer and conductor, who has reluctantly agreed to being turned into a documentary, and Shara is picked as the lady to play her. This provides a perfect way to force Shara into her life, as the obsessive method actress who comes and studies her, providing the perfect set up for a lesbian romance.

And when I say 'lesbian romance' a certain plot probably flashed into your mind, of meeting and swooning and attraction and tragic misunderstanding, followed by reconciliation and lots of lesbian sex and a happily ever after.

And you'd be right. Half right. This is actually a long and solid novel that combines the initial romance with its own sequel, and while they do feel like two distinct sections that could have been separate books, that second half is what brings A Walk in the Rain up from well written and enchanting, but predictable romance to a real story with real people and real character growth and real conflict. And a lot more romance. The second arc, however, is mainly Jessa's issues and insecurities and previous relationships coming back to bite them.

I enjoyed the book. I found the first half predictable, but looking back from the very end of the story it's actually a nice solid set-up to the second half. I did occasionally want to just reach into the pages and slap the characters silly, as like most romance plots, they brought their tragic drama entirely on themselves. But their flaws were acknowledged and explored in the second half (and touched on in the first), so I stopped being annoyed at the 'everything is perfect and we are destined for each other, but woe tragedy' dance they did in the beginning.

About the story

Our characters are both gorgeous, famous women with a taste for classical music. Shara is an up and coming actress with a fierce work ethic, Irish background and an award under her belt. She's settled in a comfortable routine with her boyfriend, has some deep emotional issues from an emotionally withholding father and has never even considered lesbianism until she suddenly goes gay for her newfound soulmate. This raging attraction and growing friendship comes at a time when her insecure, arrogant and midlife crisis-ing boyfriend decides they should get married.

Part One
From the very first scene we see that Jessa is flawed and tragic and lonely, as she vibrates angrily about at her friend/parental figure/manager, Lisa. This is a scene explaining what and why and who our two lovers are and establishing that Jessa is broken and has major trust issues. And then, for the rest of the first arc, all those flaws practically vanish into the haze of mutual attraction, hidden under the skin of the cool and confident world class composer. We see most of this courtship dance through Shara's eyes, and she clearly thinks that, not only does Jessa hang the moon, but she is a strong and generally perfect person who pushes her buttons and her boundaries.

And then we get a solid series of encounters and a growing friendship, along with the usual reactions and misunderstandings or romance, predictably enjoyable, but handled well enough to make you believe the character could progress through these steps quite naturally. And there's a reason cliches hang around, it's just that many authors write it because it happens, not because the characters should do it.

The main character drama in the courtship arc is entirely on Shara's shoulders. We wrap it up feeling a little as if most of the problems were her fault, and it was all about her having to compromise and admit what she really wanted, and that Jessa was actually perfect with a dash of issues to make her interesting. But then the author took her perfect couple and pushed them and we get to watch all Jessa's relationship issues break out into the open, like shattering glass, as everything starts splintering in vicious shards.

Part Two
This is where the other type of relationship drama comes in. Our two lovers have settled down together in a happy little love nest, but then trouble starts rearing its head. There's no real point describing each individual event, so this is going to be a very short summary, but essentially, Jessa's insecurity starts winning out, and her troubled past with of gloryhounds and betrayal affects her perceptions. Throughout this, Shara remains steadfast, and pretty much blameless; no matter how torn apart they are, it's mostly Jessa's doing.

But fear not, there's some salacious backstory, some dramatic gestures, and of course, a heartwarming and believable happy ever after.

On the going gay trope and the artificial drama with Ted:
As for the ongoing refusal to get with Jessa, that was entirely Shara's doing. She made up her mind fairly early that she couldn't make the jump, seizing on the excuse that Ted would go to the tabloids and make the filming a nightmare. She allowed Ted and Jessica to believe that she had accepted his proposal (not that he ever really made one!), and acted as if she was his fiance. We were halfway from the courtship arc when I realised that we'd never seen her say yes, she'd just acted as if it was going forward and generally avoided the entire topic. Most of her life with Ted wasn't shown, only his introduction and when he intersects with her role with Jessica.

As for going gay... while there were hints that she wasn't very successful at having meaningful relationships, it initially came across as if Jessica was just her perfect match, nothing to do with the others all being men. She mentions attraction fading from previous heights and not being able to keep her hands off Ted (once). As the story progresses, her past love life is cast in a less and less successful light. It's hard to tell whether she had been fooling herself all along, or if Jessica really was the one person that could blow right through her defences and capture her interest. If we're getting into labels, she's either bisexual, or it's that one case of 'perfect for each other, gender need not come into it'.

Music and Fame
Music is obviously a major part of the story, and I can't speak to the accuracy, as I'm no expert, but nothing rang false. It was woven throughout the romance, with Jessa writing a love song (well, 'musical poem') for Shara, and scenes in and around the orchestra.

Both women were reasonably famous, and the isolating effects of success and the attentions of the press were also strong themes throughout the book. They had to overcome years of habits, fears and the very real obstacle of public attention and gossip.

Fantastic romance that doesn't treat the reader like an idiot, but is perfect for relaxing into. The characters stand up in their own rights, the story works, and it's weighty enough to feel worth paying for. Highly recommended.

You can buy  A Walk in the Rain from Amazon as both kindle and paperback 

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