Title: The Kindness by Polly Samson
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Fiction
Length: 305 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
He followed her eyes skyward to a bird that was falling, turning and turning, like a heart that had leapt free. It fell, and as it did it became a falcon. He was transfixed.
Julian’s fall begins the moment he sets eyes on Julia.
Julia is married and eight years his senior; he is a gifted English student, a life of academia ahead. Ignoring warnings from family and friends, they each give up all they have to be together. Their new life in London offers immense happiness, especially after their longed-for daughter Mira is born.
When Julian hears that Firdaws, his adored boyhood home, is for sale, he sets out to recreate a lost paradise for his new family. Once again, love blinds him. It is only when Mira becomes terrifyingly ill that it is impossible for Julia to conceal from him the explosive secret that she has been keeping at the heart of their lives.
Lyrical, haunting and exquisitely rendered, Polly Samson’s second novel explores a deception that comes wrapped as a gift, a betrayal that is clothed in kindness, and asks if we can ever truly trust another. The result is an unforgettable story of love, grief, betrayal, and reconciliation, masterfully plotted and beautifully told.
The Kindness by Polly Samson is a novel about an older woman/younger man whose relationship falls apart when their young daughter falls ill. Spanning nearly 23 years, much of the past is revealed through flashbacks and a great deal of suspense surrounds the fate of the couple’s daughter.
In the beginning, Julia and Julian’s relationship is quite idyllic and the two are deeply in love. Their romance had a bit of rocky beginning since Julia was still married to her abusive husband and Julian had not yet finished college. Neither of them were too concerned about their eight year age gap, but it is a point of contention for Julian’s over protective mother. The birth of their daughter Mira completes their family but their relationship falters when Julian purchases his old family home Firdaws without consulting Julia. Unfortunately, when Mira falls ill, their once close bond cannot withstand the stress and Julian returns to Firdaws alone to grieve his loss.
Most of the novel is written from Julian’s point of view. He is deeply depressed and living alone at Firdaws. His loss is keenly felt and his family and friends are growing increasingly concerned about him. It is obvious he is quite grief stricken, but there are many questions about what he is mourning since neither Mira nor Julia are mentioned except through flashbacks. As Julian tries to make it through his days, he reminisces about his relationship with Julia, whom he deeply loves. He is overjoyed at Mira’s birth but after he moves to Firdaws, he becomes her primary caregiver since Julia’s career keeps her in town most of the week. Mira’s mysterious illness comes and goes and although they take her to a local doctor, her symptoms are too vague to reach a conclusive diagnosis. Julian eventually becomes impatient with her frequent bouts of sickness and in the present, he is obviously wracked with guilt for not being more concerned about her health.
The last hundred pages are written from Julia perspective and the entire truth is finally revealed. Her dysfunctional past makes her a mostly sympathetic character but some of her decisions are hard to understand. The secrets she has been keeping are quite shocking and completely unexpected.
Although beautifully written with very descriptive prose, The Kindness is a rather difficult novel to follow. The pacing is rather slow and the abrupt transitions between past and present are confusing. The narrative is exquisitely detailed but many of these details do not really add anything to the plot. While the main “mystery” is completely resolved, the conclusion is a little ambiguous and the fate of some of the characters is unclear.
In spite of these issues, The Kindness is a enjoyable read. Polly Samson brings the characters’ emotions and the various settings vibrantly to life. The plot twists are brilliantly executed and it is only through hindsight that seemingly innocuous events begin to make sense. A leisurely paced novel that fans of literary fiction should add to their summer reading list.