Rat

A Novel

by Fernanda Eberstadt

Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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BookBrowse Review

An enthralling novel with a luminous sense of place with a bold, engaging young heroine for our times

Once in a while a book comes along that I simply love. I sink into the story and am carried away for hours into another world and another life. I reach the end feeling that I have been on vacation. Rat did that for me. Here at BookBrowse, we recommend books that entertain and inform. I did learn some things: the various winds of the Pyrenees Orientales region stand out in my mind. But most of all I was entertained by this modern day fairy tale. Let me tell you some of the ways I loved Rat.

I loved the main character. Celia (nicknamed Rat by her loving but flakey mom) is fierce and feral, changes like the wind and has a brave heart. She is the quintessential child who goes in search of the missing parent.

I loved the setting. The south of France, the Mediterranean with the Pyrenees mountains as a backdrop. The funky apartment where Rat lives with her mom, a former wine cellar in an old farmhouse, with bad plumbing, is transformed through Rat's eyes into a fairy dwelling, reminding me of Francis Hodgson Burnett's Little Princess in her attic.

I loved the tale: fifteen year old daughter of a single mom goes on a quest to find her impossibly glamorous father in London, trailing with her an adopted brother and helped by random acts of kindness along the way.

I even loved the end of the story, which I cannot tell you, except that it is true to the way things go when starry-eyed teens have to make a synthesis out of their dreams and reality.

I could tell you that some of the characters were not wholly believable. Or that Rat's journey through France with no money and across the English Channel without proper papers was improbable. That the dialogue was not always impeccable. But for this reader, none of that mattered enough to detract from such a fine, fine novel.

I have not read any of Fernanda Eberstadt's four earlier novels. Apparently Rat is quite a departure from those, but I have already checked one of them out of the library. Rat is being marketed as an adult novel, but I think Young Adult readers would love it as much as I did. I felt I was approximately sixteen while I was reading it and longing to have the exciting life of Rat.

Reviewed by Judy Krueger

This review was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the March 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

Beyond the Book

The Winds of the Pyrenees Orientales

"The Pyrenees-Orientales is the Command Center of winds. Here they all congregate, quarrel, barter and rule. There are said to be 119 different winds in the Pyrenees-Orientales. (If you could sell wind we'd be rich, people used to say in the days before the foothills got sown with rows of gigantic new turbines, without bringing a marked improvement to anybody's fortunes."

p.27 of Rat.

Here are five of those winds:

The Tramontane:  Dry, cold and often violent, carrying air from polar regions. In summer it brings clear blue skies and relief from the heat.  In winter it just brings cold air. If the weather over the Mediterranean Sea is perturbed the Tramontane can cause heavy rain: Quan plou de tramuntana, plou de gana - When the Tramontane rains, it really rains.

The Narbonnaise: A north wind resembling the tramontana. If associated with an influx of arctic air, it may be very stormy with heavy falls of rain or snow. It is especially violent in the region of Perpignan where it blows in a succession of squalls for several days. Cold in winter, hot in summer, always dry, it is followed by good weather.

The Marin: A warm marine wind from the Mediterranean Sea. It blows from the south-east bringing banks of low humid cloud.   Sea mist can be dense on the coastal plain. The wind causes heavy rain in coastal areas in winter. In summer the clouds tend to dissipate, but they can hang around for days smelling distinctly of salt.  The wind can be strong, even violent, bringing the heavy rain well inland.

Sirocco: A south wind.  It brings hot dry air from Africa - which can be uncomfortable in a particularly hot summer. This wind blows only rarely, and then only for a few hours. If you find everything for miles around covered by a fine film of sand, you can be confident that the Sirocco has brought it from the Sahara Desert. It may last for between half a day to many days. Many people attribute health problems to the Sirocco. The dust carried by it can damage mechanical devices and invade buildings. Winds with speeds of almost 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph/55 knots - hurricane force) are most common during the autumn and the spring. They reach peaks in March and in November.

Autan: Some days before it blows, a calmness descends, characterized by crystal clear air.  During this period the Pyrenees may be seen from 150 kilometres away.  As farmers say when this happens - "the Autan wants to blow". The noise of this hot dry wind causes insomnia.  It is sometimes known as the Vent des Fous (the wind of the mad) as it can blow for up to nine days on end, allegedly driving people mad. It is also known as the devil's wind and the wind of death.

Reviewed by Judy Krueger

This review was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the March 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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