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Alan Burns: Europe after the Rain

This novel takes its name from Max Ernst’s painting of the same name. Burns has stated that he saw a reproduction of the painting in a book and that it exactly matched the landscape of the novel he was writing. If you think the landscape of the painting is bleak, wait till you read the book. It is set in a Europe, which seems to be soon after the War, though it is based more on an imaginary rather than a real Europe, though the truth may well not be far behind. The plot follows an unnamed narrator who may or may not be some sort of official in an undefined country whose borders and government change more than once. The narrator is looking for a girl, whose father and brother are associated with some sort of rebel activity. The brother is part of a group called bandits, who are clearly a rebel group, while the father is clearly some sort of authority figure but, like most of the authority figures, ends up out of power and punished.

Most of the book follows three themes. Firstly, if you are in power you will almost certainly end up out of power and probably brutally. The commander, for example, is torn apart by a mob. Secondly, the landscape is as brutal and ugly as Ernst’s painting. Destruction and ruin are everywhere. Finally, human life is cheap and brutal. We see cruel treatment to everyone, with virtually no hope for redemption or escape. In short, in Burns’ Europe, life is barely worth living and survival is the name of the game, with little hope or consolation.

Publishing history

First published 1965 by Calder