The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares is thankfully a short novel that describes life, or rather the end of it, in a Pyrenean village called Ainielle. Andres, the book’s narrator, has lived there all his life in a house he calls Casa Sosas. By the time we meet him, he is reaching the end of his life, as is his village, since it is now almost deserted, abandoned by almost all who used to make a life of sorts there. Its economy has dwindled, its activity ceased. Andres remains there with his memories and shrinking present.
Andres relates the salient events in his life story through a series of reflections. These take the form of short monologues that allow neither dialogue nor, even reported, any words or reflections of others. Thus everything is filtered through the narrator’s highly partial, inwardly focused perspective. And through that one learns of suicide, betrayal, rejection, life, death, birth, marriage, estrangement, and suffering, and all of these tinged with regret, borne of a feeling of deterioration and abandonment. The book’s theme is stated and restated, but it always stays the right side of repetition for repetition’s sake. What emerges is an impressionistic vision of unidirectional change for the worse.
Thus the novel does not really have a plot, apart from Andres’s conscious preparation for his own inevitable end. Throughout the tone is desolate, with an occasional lightening as high as despair. But having said that, it is not a criticism of the book, since it achieves what is sets out to achieve in describing Ainielle’s and, within it, Andres’s own descent into non-being.
Andres goes as far as digging his own grave to ensure an interment alongside his memories, most of which seem to be closely entwined with decay and tragedy. He describes the circumstances that led others to take their own lives, to suffer at the hand of an unforgiving environment. One feels that there were always options, but that the identity people shared in their isolated existence was too strong to reject.
The Yellow Rain is not a novel to pick up in search of light relief, but it is an engaging, well written and, in its English version, an especially well translated book. Its point may be quite one dimensional, but this transformation is vividly, sensitively and convincingly portrayed. The book is also succinct, short enough to avoid wallowing in its own slough of despond. Ainielle is now a ghost town, but still one worthy of exploration.