It was with huge pleasure that I started representing Polly Samson just over a year ago and it was with great excitement that I took possession of her second novel The Kindness, published today by Bloomsbury UK. Polly is a very old and dear friend, I had followed her extremely distinguished writing career over many years and had absolutely loved her recent collection of short stories Perfect Lives, but I did not know quite what to expect of The Kindness.
I knew that it was partly influenced by Paradise Lost so I sensed that betrayal might be at the heart of the story, and I knew it would be extremely good, as Polly is an extraordinary writer, her prose vivid and glittering, her insights darkly funny, her moral compass so finely tuned, framing her work with such great subtlety that it’s almost a sleight of hand.
What I did not know, but was to discover, was that two compelling family stories, that of Polly’s Uncle Heino and his lost child and subsequent suicide, and Polly’s own story as the child of two fathers, travelling between England and Berlin while her mother tried to make her mind up about which partner she would choose and which life she wanted to lead, had been woven into the plot to profound and heart-breaking effect.
I read The Kindness in one sitting and was blown away by it. Fiendishly structured it moves forwards, backwards and sideways in time and tells the story of a passionate love-affair between Julian a student and Julia, an older, already married, woman. Against all advice from friends and family Julian drops his university career and the couple elope; several years later their longed for child Mira is born. It looks as if their happiness is complete when Firdaws, Julian’s much loved and much missed family home, comes up for sale and they move to the country. Julian is ecstatic, Julia a little less so, but she continues to put her heart and soul into her gardening business in London while Julian oversees the re-creation of his childhood idyll.
However when Mira becomes extremely, possibly mortally, ill the fissures in their relationship begin to show, stresses and strains rise to the surface, misunderstandings are left unresolved, hurt feelings left to fester. Julian and Julia battle to save their child but in doing so their relationship begins to unravel. The first half of this un-putdownable book culminates in a devastating scene when Julian finally discovers the nature of the kindness that has been shown to him. A kindness that come to destroy everything he thought he understood and every security he thought he had. There has been a serpent in the Garden of Eden all along.
All that’s left to say is that I urge you to read this book. Brilliantly conceived and beautifully written it combines the moral grandeur of a great nineteenth century novel such as Great Expectations or Therese Raquin with the immediacy and dark impact of writers such as Daphne Du Maurier, Beryl Bainbridge and Tessa Hadleigh.