As a Goodreads giveaway winner I was excited to receive a copy of Polly Samson’s The Kindness published by Bloomsbury last year and in paperback 2016. On the cover Jojo Moyes calls it as ‘A dark, sexy little masterpiece’ and I absolutely agree.
A very dark and sensuous tale of loss, love and betrayal, The Kindness describes, in the character of Julian, what it’s like living moment to moment, day by day after a terrible, life-changing loss. We know from the beginning that he once had a daughter, Mira and a beautiful wife, Julia and was a reasonably successful writer of popular children’s history books; but now he has nothing but pain.
Polly Samson is pinpoint accurate in her details – the tiny worn shoe Julian tries not to touch, his wife’s jumper that he takes to bed with him. All we know is that something unimaginable has happened and that in spite of his obsessively well-meaning mother and eager ex-girlfriend, he is stuck in his own memories and misery. Julian is also living back in the house where he grew up, deep in the countryside where Nature is luxuriant but also cruel: there are life-threatening wasps; hawks; possible snakes and tangling weeds in the river; cells multiplying under the microscope and the heady, intoxicating scents of hyacinth or jasmine. Nature is both life and death, violence and intense pleasure.
The story moves effortlessly over twenty years slipping smoothly from the past (indicated by the past tense) where we catch glimpses and hints of what led up to the loss, then back to the present day (present tense). We are given life in all its messy, glorious complexity.
The Kindness is so well-plotted that I was guessing right up to the end. It is both literary fiction of the first order and a page turner; I wanted to savour it at the same time as rushing to finish, leaving off reading so that I had more to come back to the next day. At the dark heart of the novel is an act of kindness, and great tenderness but also a shocking betrayal.
A stunning book, both vivid and memorable; I would recommend it to everyone.