A Terrible Kindness: The Bestselling Richard and Judy Book Club Pick
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The occasion is interrupted by an appeal from Aberfan for help after the unspeakable disaster which overwhelmed the primary school and many homes and William volunteers. Browning Wroe easily evokes both setting and era with gorgeous descriptive prose and popular culture references.
I think the story needed to commit to Aberfan, or not bother as the circling back didn't work for me with very little story in the middle. William and others help prepare the bodies for burial, but the experience leaves him traumatised and determined never to become a parent, for fear of facing the same loss. I felt rifts were added between people in the family to keep the story interesting, but really the only purpose they served was to help everything to wrap up nicely by the end of the book.I did not find William's boarding school/choir boy adventures particularly interesting, so I was reading on only for the something that is teased throughout. I truly appreciated listening to the magnificent sounds of various Cambridge choir renditions of Miserere and Myfanwy two songs regularly mentioned in the book. Most knew of it from a mention in The Crown on Netflix, and many went off to read more about it before beginning the novel.
Although the Aberfan tradegy is just horrendous, this book used it as its back drop for telling an impressively uplifting story of what happens to William when he begins to deal with the consequences of his involvement in what happened. Why did he turn his back on such a promising future and join the family business as a funeral embalmer? But I do not feel the Aberfan disaster was essential to telling this story, which was about a young embalmer William. I would not be surprised to see it in a number of prize lists this year – particularly perhaps the Costa, as it is a memorable, emotionally impactful as well as ultimately uplifting read. There are a number of interesting characters: Martin, his best friend from boarding school and William's uncle.When one of the mothers speaks of hearing Myfanwy sung from the mountains I real ugly cried but also felt so full of hope and love for this books incredible characters. I was literally moved to tears as newly qualified embalmer William, goes above and beyond when a huge tragedy befalls Aberfan.
If you'd like to know more about the Aberfan disaster of 1966, Wikipedia has a good article complete with photos of the village after the landslide https://en. There is no question that Jo Browning Wroe who, at age 58, has written her first novel (as a woman of a certain age, I love when that happens! There’s a great cast of characters - I liked kindly uncle Robert and jolly irreverent school friend Martin, and admired Gloria who bravely put up with William’s sometimes awful behaviour.It wasn't so much about the Aberfan disaster as about the effects of PTSD on those who are involved in recovering bodies after such disasters.
The truth is, however, that the book has very little to do with Aberfan and, instead, uses it as a dramatic backdrop for William to rethink his life and reminisce about his adolescence. Fiona will be in conversation with Jo Browning Wroe author of Sunday Times Bestseller, A Terrible Kindness. The first part deals with the scenes straight after the event, and we see William, the main character, embalming some of the children who died (horribly). I like that a light has been shone on the work of the volunteer embalmers, something I would never have known about if it wasn't for this book. For me it was about not letting the past consume you and carrying on living your life to the fullest.Sentences such as “the roast pork … moved from William’s plate, to his mouth, to his stomach easily”, or “Ray’s baby is nestled inside her warm body”, sound like faltering translations, while the description “Aberfan is black, white or grey” will seem cursory to anyone who has seen images of the landslide. Since his father died two years ago, William has had to tighten up his insides and work hard to cheer his mother up” but at Cambridge, he made a real friend: “he is relieved that it seems all he needs to do to be liked by Martin is to be himself. Faber Members get access to live and online author events and receive regular e-newsletters with book previews, promotional offers, articles and quizzes. Overall, I’m glad I read A Terrible Kindness and hope Jo Browning Wroe has another book in the pipeline.