Cover Image: A Terrible Kindness

A Terrible Kindness

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Member Reviews

This book just took my breath away it was such a beautiful story and so wonderfully written. Sometimes when you read a book you suddenly begin to realise that this is going to be one that you will never forget well this is one of those there isn’t one single thing I didn’t love about it it had everything and more. 
The story is based partly on a real incident the terrible Aberfan  tragedy and it was heartbreaking to read about it but it was written in such a compassionate way that made it bearable although I broke my heart more that once whilst reading the book.
Please don’t get me wrong although this is a sad read in parts it’s also very uplifting it also features one of my favourite pieces of music the Miserere by Allegri  and that made this book so very special I played it more than once whilst reading.
Whatever I say about this book is never going to be good enough to convey just how stunning a read it is it’s a book I will never forget and one that will remain forever in my heart, many many thanks to Jo Browning Wroe you deserve more than the 5 stars I can give it was a beautiful read.
So please give this book a read it’s one not to be missed and I can highly recommend it.
My thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber Ltd for giving me the chance to read the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This heartbreaking and at times harrowing novel begins with an embalmers’ dinner, where 20-year-old newly qualified William volunteers to travel to Aberfan in the aftermath of the catastrophic coal-tip collapse. The resulting landslide, which overran a primary school, resulted in the death of 116 children. William meticulously takes care of their bodies and sees the agonised grieving of parents; this understandably leads to PTSD later in his life. 

The narrative then goes back to William’s days as a young chorister at Cambridge, where his extraordinary voice gives him opportunities. We know that his father died a few years ago, and that his mother Evelyn has struggled with her grief; during these school years, the relationship between mother and son is close – but it is also abundantly clear that something has disrupted their relationship as older William is no longer in contact with his mother.

Throughout, William is supported by his uncle Robert -- the identical twin of his father and the owner of the family embalming business; Robert’s life partner Howard has been rejected by William’s mother but William has a strong relationship with him. Gloria is his love and an interesting character in her own right. But my favourite character was the exuberant and incorrigible Martin who also has a voice like an angel.

This novel was much different than the young adult novels or historical fiction that I often read, and the description of embalming was not for the faint-of-heart. But I enjoyed seeing how William’s life unfolded during various crucial periods in his life. Indeed, at the 50% mark of the book, I found myself so engrossed that I read it through to the end, shedding a few tears along the way. The empathetic description of the emotional impact of the Aberfan disaster was especially powerful.
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. The telling of the Aberfan tragedy through the eyes of a teenage embalmer and the consequent effect what he saw and did have on him were incredibly moving.
Switching between William as a child at choral school and as a man at Aberfan and for the six years following the disaster, his life is wonderfully described in snapshots, from his amazing friendship with Martin at school to his budding romance with Gloria  and his healing return to Wales.
Williams emotional trauma as a result of volunteering at Aberfan is well written and sensitively handled and felt realistic for the time period it described.
Overall a very emotional and beautiful read.
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This book is glorious. Moving and painful and joyous. A story of tragedy, hope and love. The writing holds you close and the characters are kept very real - I didn’t want to leave them behind. It’s not often that a book makes me cry and the final few chapters here destroyed me! Will be recommending and buying for family.
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The book starts with the Aberfan disaster and William's involvement with the victims. I was 12 in 1966 when this disaster struck and it made a big impression on me as it was the first tragedy that I remember.

The book was a really good read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well written and the characters were all very believable.
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Prevaricating between four and five stars for this book. It was very enjoyable and well written and the subject matter with William as an embalmer was unusual and piqued my interest. However, I would have to say that after a fabulous opening set in Aberfan in the wake of the wake of the slag heap disaster that killed so many children, and then a section when William is in Cambridge at choral school, the book somewhat lost its plot and became slightly overwhelming with the number of strands it had going through it. If it had all been written with the intensity of the early chapters it would have been an absolutely stunning novel, but for me the pace didn't quite hold out.
William volunteers, as a newly qualified embalmer, to go and help prepare the bodies for funerals in Aberfan in 1966. The shock of what he sees makes him decide he never wants children himself. He could tolerate it if something happened to them. This decision and the affects of post traumatic stress shape the next six years of William's life, as he revisits the relationships he has with his family and friends. 
The story is told with many flash backs, but they are quite clearly delineated and there is no confusion. I found the  cliffhangers that the author left really spurred me to read on. Some of William's decisions appear rather suspect until something is clarified later on. The character of Martin is beautifully drawn. His infectious laugh, and happy go luck attitude really drove the Cambridge section of the book. Gloria too, is well done and totally believable.
In all I did very much enjoy this book, but the earlier sections were superior in my opinion. My thanks for Netgalley and Faber and Faber Ltd for an ARC copy in return for an honest review.
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An excellent debut novel following the life of William Lavery who as a newly qualified embalmer went to help at the horrendous landslide at Aberfan in 1966. It tells of William's life during,before and after that dreadful day. I was extremely moved by the life he lead. It is a story full of grief,pain,love but most of all hope. I look forward to reading more from this author.
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It's 1966 and nineteen year old William is at his first black tie event. Beside him is Gloria who he intends to ask to marry him. He's about to be lauded as the first trainee embalmer ever to attain full marks in his exams. He couldn't be happier. This changes though when news of a disaster at Aberfan comes through. Volunteer embalmers are needed and he immediately steps up. What he sees there will affect him forever.

I loved this book. The events at Aberfan are a small part of it. It is mainly about William's life, both before and after the disaster. He is a complex sometimes infuriatingly stubborn character with his grudge against his mother which fortunately both his uncle and Gloria continue to try to talk him out of. It's sensitively written and the events at Aberfan are treated with respect as is the process of embalming.  I never imagined I'd be reading a book with a funeral director at its heart this year but I did and I'm glad to have done so. It's a cliche but this is a life affirming book and I strongly recommend it. Thanks to Faber and to NetGalley for the ARC,
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This story treats the disaster that happened in the town of Aberfan in 1966 when 116 children were among those killed when a colliery spoil tip collapsed on their junior school.   The author has chosen the unusual angle of telling the story from  the point of view of a team of embalmers, specifically 19 year old William.  The scenes where William has to identify the children by items of clothing are very moving and the descriptions of the pain of the parents and the treatment of the bodies are sensitively handled.    The story moves back and forward through time with passages about William's time as a chorister in Cambridge, and his relationships with friend Martin, a special uncle, a young woman Gloria and his mother.

There is plenty to appeal to the reader here though some of it I found predictable.  The boarding school scenes were among my favourites in spite of the familiarity of the scenarios and William's relationship with Martin was moving and well told.   William's estrangements from his mother and his old friends had an authentic feel to them and led to a satisfactory ending.

I would have liked more about the events in Aberfan, but that aside, I would recommend this book for featuring a tricky subject in a compassionate way.   I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
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A joyous and heart rending story of William, who responds to the emergency call out for embalmers in the immediate aftermath of the Aberfan disaster. A tale of how to forgive, how to survive tragedy and ultimately bring hope to many lives. I couldn't put it down.
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One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time, and certainly the first to make me cry in ages! The final couple of chapters were just perfection.
Telling the story of William, a newly qualified embalmer who has followed his late father and uncle into the funeral business. William volunteers to help in the aftermath of the Aberfan tragedy where over a hundred children lost their lives.  Haunted by the experience he tells his young fiancé that he cannot marry her.

We then go back to discover not only the start of their relationship, but also his childhood. And discover that it is not only Aberfan that has given him trauma to deal with. Piecing together all these key events in his life with a wonderful cast of characters.
Although at times the idea of funerals and embalming might sound overwhelming , it is handled so well and with such care that truly this book could not have a better title. The kindest characters you could ever wish for.
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Just brilliant. A strong meander through the impact on a boy, a family and a life after volunteers are called to spend a busy few days as embalmers after the Aberfan disaster. This impacts the whole of William’s and we look at the ripples and what they do to his friends, his family and especially him as he searches for love and perhaps a family of his own.
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Adored this book, I was wishing time away so I could get back to it. Completely fell in love with it from the first page. Sensitively written about the Aberfan disaster and the effect it had on so many people. The way it then flipped to William's early life, right through to link back seamlessly to after was so clever. You really felt like you knew each character and I will admit my heart broke for William and Martin many times throughout the book. A sign of great writing is when it evokes emotions and this one made me really think (and cry more than once). This book will stay with me for a long time and it's right up there as one of favourite reads for a long time.
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The opening section about Aberfan was one of the most moving things I have ever read. I had tears rolling down my face and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even when I wasn’t reading the book.

The sections after that, where we go back in time to William’s time as a chorister at Cambridge, lacked the same sort of emotional impact. However, I did really like the character of his friend Martin and the impact he had on William’s life.

The characters were well developed and realistic. William could be frustrating at times, especially with the way he treated Gloria and his mother, but you begin to understand why he makes the choices he does when you read more about his past.

I never thought I’d be particularly interested in reading about embalming but it was done in such a sensitive way, I actually found it really interesting.

It’s a tender and gentle story with real human tragedy as the backdrop. I think I would have preferred to read more about Aberfan, the aftermath and how the families coped, as that is what I thought the story would be about. But this was William’s story, one of family, love and forgiveness and I did enjoy it.

A deeply emotive and well-researched book that I would definitely recommend.

You can read my full review at
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What an amazing story. A heartbreaking subject of the landslide in Aberfan. Beautifully written with such sensitivity. Really enjoyed finding out about William’s life and choices. Great ending that brought tears to my eyes. Would give it 6 stars if I could!
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Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. It's not like anything I have read before. I was really invested in William as a character and I really wanted to understand why he is the way he is. The story didn't spend much time on Aberfan which is a shame but I liked the way we circled back to it for the ending.  Overall a lovely read and I would recommend.
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This book kept me up in the middle of the night - not just reading, but thinking. The storyline will stay with me for a long time because it has been so well written and is so evocative of a particular time, place and set of characters.
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Goodness, what a book!  I loved it from beginning to end, with all the tears and laughter along the way.

Although I was too young at the time to understand much about the Aberfan disaster, unfortunately plenty of other terrible disasters have occurred since.  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t ever given much thought to the effect they might have on funeral directors, and specifically embalmers.  We just lean on them and trust them to get on with their job.  I hope I don’t take them so much for granted in future.

Young, newly qualified embalmer, William, responds immediately to the call for volunteers to travel to Aberfan to look after those who have died.  “Keep your head down and your heart hard.  That’s your kindness”, he is told by one more experienced.  Keeping his head down is one thing – he manages to carry out his duties admirably; keeping his heart hard is quite another.

William is a troubled soul; troubled not only in response to this incident, but by various events and relationships during his childhood, which we gradually learn about as the narrative moves back and forth in time.  Some of these events are hinted at for a while before they are fully revealed.  I enjoyed this aspect and found it intriguing, rather than infuriating, which it might have been in a different author’s hands.

Although I found the ending hugely satisfying, I didn’t want the story to end, as I’d grown very fond of William and the other people in his life.
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A Terrible Kindness is an extraordinary book, weaving one of Wales’ worst tragedies into a breathtakingly moving story of a newly qualified embalmer. The writing is beautiful, crafted from meticulous research and the characters are so very real. I loved it.
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I don’t even know where to start with this review. I feel so emotional and afraid that I will never to able to praise this book enough. I was nine years old when the Aberfan disaster happened. It was one of those moments in time that no one could ever forget. So to conjure up that era just came naturally, how people dressed, talked and the taboos of that time.

The story opens, with the central character William, at nineteen, being awarded the highest grade possible, with perfect marks, as he graduates as an embalmer. The black-tie event comes to an abrupt halt when word arrives that embalmers are urgently needed in Aberfan. A large area of the village and school has been buried with a huge landslide. A call for children's coffins has gone out and urgent help.

It is there where you will connect with William, this tender, caring man, who will forever be changed, with the thing he sees. His gentle manner, his thoughtfulness and respect. He had known where his life was going before that night, but for the second time, outside events would send him on a different path.

William has the most amazing singing voice, and as a child is offered a place to be trained as a choir boy where he will board with other boys like himself. What a wonderful friend he meets there, Martin, who is the same age. The story drops back to this time, and I giggled my way through these chapters.

Family plays a huge part in this story, the dynamics of relationships, love, death and acceptance. It has it all and with such powerful writing that every person feels real. Every event affected me. This story isn’t just memorable. It is unforgettable. It is perfection.

I wish to thank that publisher and Net Galley for an e-copy of this book, which I have reviewed honestly.
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