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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Spring Rain by Marc Hamer

02 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Spring Rain by Marc Hamer is published by Penguin

Spring Rain is one of the shortlisted titles in the English language Creative Non-Fiction category for the Wales Book of the Year 2024 shortlist . 

Jon Gower

One of the benefits of prize shortlists  is directing us to books that might not otherwise have been on our radar. In the case of Spring Rain it would have meant missing out on one of those books which generously share simple wonder, joy and wisdom: one of those books that make you feel better. This is not to say it’s a book of self-help, more a quiet meditation on how to live with rare attentiveness and genuine thanks.

It is both a memoir of childhood and a vivid journal of Hamer’s life as it is now. His boyhood was a time of boundless curiosity – in part satisfied by the discovery of a near-complete set of encyclopaedias – and also a difficult family life.



His father was a boorish, nasty man who is appropriately dubbed ‘Angry Dog’ and we find out in some detail the various poisons such as wolfsbane his son intends to employ to encourage his demise. His mother is partial to drink and as a family they never stay in one place all that long. In one of the book’s more painful recollections the younger Marc packs all his possessions into a box for a move to Blackpool but it and all its contents are seemingly tossed away without a care.

Such experiences seem to leave very few scars as the adult Hamer is content in so many ways, even though years of gardening have taken their toll on his knees. Life with his wife Peggy is suffused with love and even moments when the weather changes for the worse are chances to more fully appreciate the world:

The cat is curled and sleeping, and Peggy reads while the boiling milky-blue sky becomes heavy and turbulent. The wind huffs and howls, and trees bend and leaves flap, and magpies bunched on branches ride their bucking whips. The rain comes straight down and fine, yet dense like silky hair that’s blonde and thin, and then it’s sideways and thick and splatters on the glass, and tiny lenses bend the light so that the lilac tree is caught in miniature in every drop.

Poetic prose

That passage illustrates the clear poetry of the prose, words which splash across the pages like raindrops, full of life in all its change and unexpectedness.

Being locked out of the house turns into an adventure, as does a visit to the beach where the circus is washing the elephants.

We join Hamer as he meditates in the morning, or buys flowers for the table and learn that he knows how to mix up a perfect Dirty Martini. He loves his wife and she loves him back and Spring Rain is full of bright little domestic moments which show how two people can live in harmony, can delight in each other’s very being.


And of course there’s gardening, lots of gardening and seeds and flowers o the extent that the book becomes a sort of bouquet, colourfully lush with Himalayan rhododendrons, hydrangeas, bright-orange gerberas, monkshood, black cosmos and marigolds. There are ‘bluebells, of course, the native ones’ and ‘Pyracanthus for by the back fence: red berries in winter for the birds and blackbirds like to nest there.’

But such blossomings are not encouraged or achieved without a lot of effort, often back-breaking labour with a good deal of wheelbarrowing or working with the secateurs. We learn how to create a path made of household bricks and dismantle a shed to be replaced by one bought via mail order.


There are many moments in this book when one is reminded of Chance the Gardener in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There, which was turned into a film starring Peter Sellers. Chance’s simple wisdom is taken by some to be much deeper, as if he is the custodian of secrets. Marc Hamer, too, is happy to share the things he’s learned from life, so that we the readers are the beneficiaries, enjoying the sight of woodlice or the tang of rain, or the ‘massed blue stars of forget-me-nots’ which ‘strain at their green leads, as if eager to escape and release their yellow suns into the sky.’

In a time riddled with cynicism and shot through with division, this book comes almost as a gift, offering healing thoughts and uplifting language even as we share the daily joys of being in the world, of watching a great tit peeling snakeskin bark from next door’s acer tree,’ of sharing in the ‘is-ness’ of things.  This book is perhaps a garden, the words tendered, cared for and fully watered, full of wild woodruff and wisdom, ‘pink propellers of clematis’ and unbridled delight in the author’s late days which he is only too happy to share.

Spring Rain by Marc Hamer is published by Penguin. It is available from all good bookshops.


You can vote for the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award here. 

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