Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 31, 2009

The Rainy Season, by Myfanwy Jones

The Rainy SeasonThe Rainy Season is chicklit with a difference.  At first it seems like a well-written but predictable Broken Heart Sorts Herself Out story, but there’s more to it than that.

Ella Morton (the Broken Heart) has  decided to press on with a Sort Yourself Out trip to Vietnam minus the Love of Her Life who found someone else just before they were due to set off.  She gets to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) but is predictably utterly miserable, so she mopes about with the expat crowd, getting unattractively drunk, smoking pot and occasionally sleeping with men she doesn’t like.  She meets some other Broken Hearts, any one of whom could turn out to be The One, but falls for Ariel, the sexy Frenchman but is Wary of Getting Hurt Again.  So far, so Bridget Jones.

The background story, however, and the reason why young Ella is such a bruised and damaged soul, is that her mother is an alcoholic, and her Vietnam Vet father abandoned her when she was five.  Her mother has always refused to talk about this, and Ella has created nostalgic memories of a loving father and forged a determination to find out what happened to him.  The original trip with the Beloved (Tim) was a sort of pilgrimage to the places Ella’s father had been with his unit; and there were plans to visit the grisly War Remnants Museum  and other places which might help her understand the trauma he would have experienced.  She thinks he might have become one of the MIA – missing in action not because of warfare but because of a wish to disappear and escape from reality.  Part of Ella’s coming-of-age story is learning to face up to the real history of her family.

Set in the middle 90s as the US embargo was lifted and the Vietnamese government embraced foreign investment, Jones writes vividly of Saigon street life and the contradictions of wealth and poverty in a Communist state.  Non-judgemental, she uses her Vietnamese characters to note that secondary education is no longer free, that hospitals are too poor to provide meals for the sick, and that there is a desperate imperative to learn English.   Expats who are setting up in business have to deal with corrupt officials,  there are regular police raids at her hotel, and surveillance is routine.  An elderly student in Ella’s English class is concerned about the loss of old traditions and new social mores, and she meets an impoverished soldier who fought on the losing side who still suffers discrimination.

These aspects of the story offset the sleaziness of Ella’s lifestyle.  Her redemption amongst the Buddhist nuns seems just a little twee, (but not ever having been drunk myself) I can’t dismiss entirely the idea that an oasis of calm without any temptations might be an effective way to break the cycle of heavy drinking and self-destructive behaviour.   It is a measure of how well-written this book is that readers will come to care about this foolish young woman and be delighted with an ending that defies expectations.

Jones has drawn on her experiences as a journalist in Vietnam in the 90s for this, her first novel, and it is these experiences that lift this book out of the ordinary.  It will be very interesting to see what she chooses for her next book!

PS The cover design by Miriam Rosenbloom is excellent, capturing the ambiguity of what might be Ella running away from herself – or of a young Vietnamese woman running into an uncertain future as she hastens to ‘catch up’ and become westernised.

Author: Myfanwy Jones
Title: The Rainy Season
Publisher: Viking Penguin 2009
ISBN: 9780670072125
Source: Personal Library

Availability
Fishpond: The Rainy Season


Responses

  1. […] the Best Writing shortlist, I’ve read and greatly admired The Tall Man, enjoyed The Rainy Season, and although I haven’t read Killing yet, I’ve read Sparrow’s Radical Melbourne […]

  2. […] Jones is, as I noted in my review of her debut novel The Rainy Season, an author to keep an eye on.  She was shortlisted for the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature […]


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