Originally published: January 2022
Author: Jo Browning Wroe
Narrated By: David Dawson
Published by: Faber & Faber
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length 400 pages /11 hrs 3 mins
Reading dates: 25 Apr – 3 May 2023
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.
A Terrible Kindness is another one of those books I rushed out to buy on release which has since languished on my shelf. I listened to it via the library app and it was narrated brilliantly by David Dawson.
As the book begins, it is 1966 and young William Lavery has just successfully completed his embalming course at college and is all set to begin working at the family business. At the black tie event he is attending to celebrate, they announce that there has been a terrible tragedy in the small mining town of Aberfan in South Wales and they ask for embalmers to go along to help with the victims. William volunteers and what he sees there is unbelievably awful. His job is to try and identify the many dead children and then get them ready for their parents.
The book then goes right back to when William was 10 and had started at Cambridge as a chorister when it is discovered he has an amazing voice. His mum is thrilled that he has this opportunity and is especially hoping for him to have a career in music rather than join the family embalming business.
The story looks at William’s life in Cambridge, what causes him to decide to become an embalmer over a career in music, and also the after effects of the tragedy he saw in Aberfan, which will effect his whole life and those around him.
I absolutely loved this story, although my goodness, the first few chapters describing the tragedy in Aberfan are a tough read and as a mother, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what the poor people there went through. Having seen what William went through after the event, I wondered how the other responders coped with what they saw and dealt with.
I found the whole story fascinating – his childhood as a chorister and his training to be an embalmer were really interesting. I liked the format too – how it started with Aberfan, then went back to see how he ended up there, followed by the after effects of the tragedy. There are some gay characters and not surprisingly for the time, there is not much tolerance.
A touching and heart breaking story, this brought more than one tear to my eye and it is certainly a story that will stay with me. A brilliant debut novel from Jo Browning Wroe.
About the author:
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.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/JoBrowningWroe
I just read this when I was in holiday and it almost brought me to tears on the plane
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I listened to it on dog walks and I had to gulp back tears a couple of times!