Thank you to Faber Books and the Tandem Collective for the opportunity to join the readalong for A Terrible Kindness, the debut novel by Jo Browning Wroe. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with a small group of readers as I read the book, and now I’m pleased to be sharing my mini non spoiler review on my book review blog.
When we go through something impossible, someone, or something, will help us, if we let them . . .
It is October 1966 and William Lavery is having the night of his life at his first black-tie do. But, as the evening unfolds, news hits of a landslide at a coal mine. It has buried a school: Aberfan.
William decides he must act, so he stands and volunteers to attend. It will be his first job as an embalmer, and it will be one he never forgets.
His work that night will force him to think about the little boy he was, and the losses he has worked so hard to forget. But compassion can have surprising consequences, because – as William discovers – giving so much to others can sometimes help us heal ourselves.
As a newly trained embalmer, William volunteers to help clean and embalm the dead from the Aberfan disaster. The Aberfan disaster occurred before I was born and I realised how little I knew about it as I read A Terrible Kindness. William has to help families identify their missing school children, often by a piece of clothing or a hair accessory. This part of the book is heartbreaking and beautifully written to explain the emotions of the time.
The story moves backwards and forwards in time, we find out about William at choir school in Cambridge, training as an embalmer for the family business and working as an embalmer after completing his training. Having lost his dad at a young age, William’s relationship with his mum and uncle changes over the years, and we discover towards the end of the book why he left the choir school suddenly.
This book is an emotional, stunning debut novel about a young man who needs to find his own passion and purpose in life rather than hiding away from what could go wrong.
This was the second of my five star reads for January 2022 and I’m keen to recommend it to everyone who reads my reviews. Have you read it yet?
Jo Browning Wroe grew up in a crematorium in Birmingham. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and is Creative Writing Supervisor at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
A TERRIBLE KINDNESS was shortlisted for the Bridport/Peggy Chapman Andrews award. She has two adult daughters and lives in Cambridge with her husband.