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The Kindness by Polly Samson
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The Kindness

by Polly Samson

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I liked this but didn't love. I admired the writing, the subtle shifts between past and present, and the way it's kind of a mash-up of domestic comedy and thriller. But I just didn't care about her characters and therefore, it became hard to really give much of a shit.

Having read some of her short stories and this novel, I can safely say Ms Samson is not my cup of tea. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Dec 15, 2016 |
The Kindness by Polly Samson is one of the worst books I have read this year. The book starts in 1989 with Julia married to Chris. Chris has been away working and Julia (who is twenty-nine) has been having an affair with Julian (who is twenty-one and a working on his Ph. D. in English Literature). When Chris finds out he becomes nasty and abusive. Julia is pregnant and leaves her husband for Julian.

Then the book skips to 1997 and Julian is living at Firdaws. Firdaws was his childhood home and he was happy when the current occupants put it up for sale. He loved this home and was delighted to be living in it again (he does not seem to notice that Julia does not want to live in the country and prefers London). Julia had a miscarriage and it took them four years to get pregnant again. They had Mira Eliana. Mira ends up sick with a tumor. She needs cancer treatments and then surgery. During this time the two do not communicate very well (and Julia makes many incorrect assumptions). The book jumps around during this section (flashbacks) telling the story from Julian’s perspective (how they met, their friends, lack of communication during Mira’s illness). Julian is mostly drunk during this section clutching a shoe (Mira’s).

About two hundred pages later we get to Julia’s side of the story in 2002. Julia is now living in the United States with her husband (this would be her third) and two children (Mira and Ruth). We get to find out what happened between Julia and Julian (from Julia’s perspective) and the lies she told Julian (her “kindness” is very cruel). Then the book jumps to 2012 for the conclusion with Mira coming to Firdaws.

The book does not tell the story in chronological order. It jumps around so you are never quite sure what is going on. The Kindness is very choppy and confusing. I also found it to be very predictable (expected) and sluggish (like slogging through a mud pit). I give The Kindness 1 out of 5 stars (really deserves a zero). I just did not find this book enjoyable (and it really did sound good).

I received a complimentary copy of The Kindness from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own. ( )
  Kris_Anderson | Jul 20, 2015 |
“The Kindness,” by Polly Samson, is an affecting and heartbreaking literary love story about love found and lost. The two star-stuck lovers are Julian and Julia. Although the story is told from both character’s third-person point of view, Julian is decidedly the emotional focus of the book and its main character.

When we first meet Julian, he’s an acutely sensitive 21-year-old man in the final process of earning a Ph.D. in English literature. His studies are being funded by a prestigious Milton Society scholarship. Julia is a self-assured married woman eight years his senior. Julian falls in love with Julia at first sight. He is consumed by his love and passion for her; it is a blinding need. Julian’s best friend, Karl, a research scientist, tries to dissuade him. “It’s your pituitary gland you’ve got to thank for this madness,” he says. “Dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, norepinephrine, vasopressin…” But within two weeks of their meeting, Julia is pregnant and Julian abandons his studies to take care of his lover and their up-coming baby.

They lovers move to house called Cromwell Gardens, in the suburbs of London. It has a huge greenhouse in the backyard. Julian takes a job at his stepfather’s publishing firm, a niche business specializing in faux literature for pet lovers. Their most recent hit book was “a restoration comedy told through the eyes of Charles the Second’s spaniel.” For Julian, it is an enormous step downwards from what he had planned for his life. Julia uses the greenhouse to start what becomes a very successful indoor horticultural business. She finds that she has an enormous talent for the business and it soon becomes her passion.

Unfortunately, Julia miscarries their first baby and the couple spends the next four years trying to conceive another. Finally, their miracle baby, Mira, is born. Because she was so hard to conceive, the child is treasured beyond reason. But a few years later when Julian’s beloved rural childhood home comes up for sale, he feels compelled to buy it and move his family there. He wants Mira to enjoy the same type of English country life he knew as a child. He is so overcome by nostalgia for his old home, that he does not consider how the move might negatively affect Julia’s business success…nor do either of them realize what rare danger await Mira just as the move gets under way.

The book is entitled “The Kindness” because it’s a mystery of sorts. The plot is entirely focused on finding out what “the kindness” was. Once you know it (and of course, that comes toward the end), it makes all the rest of the novel fall in place and make sense. Until then, the author employs a lot of literary tricks to keep this knowledge from you. She also builds suspense by causing confusion. Nothing quite makes sense until you know the act of kindness at its core. Personally, I never saw it coming and the lion’s share of the enjoyment I found in this novel was discovering this truth and then thinking back over the entire arc of the story to make sense of the whole.

The book is divided into four very distinct sections. Each section bears the name of the narrator’s home. The first section is from Julia’s third-person point of view. It is only 10 pages long and is headed Wychwood, August 1989. The second section, from Julian’s third-person point of view, is by far the longest in the novel at 200 pages. It certainly cements his position as the book’s main character. Julian’s section is headed Firdaws, August 1997. The third section returns us, once again, to Julia’s third-person point of view. At 90 pages, it is less than half the length of Julian’s section. Its purpose is mainly to provide information to support Julian’s position as the novel’s main character. Julia’s section is headed Lamb’s Conduit Street, August 2002. The final section is only 10 pages in length and is headed Firdaws, August 2012.

There were times when I was reading this novel that I wanted to stop. The novel was slow and often focused on emotionally painful events. The plot required far too much descriptive telling, over active showing and that significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the content. It quickly became apparent that the author was manipulating the content to keep the reader in the dark. I’m not fond of that type of literary style. However, when I finally discovered what the kindness was and I was able to make sense of the whole, that’s when I perked up and decided that I actually did enjoy this novel after all. The ending was powerful and affecting. Had the author not manipulated me toward that ending, I would not have experienced it in the same psychologically fulfilling manner. ( )
1 vote msbaba | Apr 12, 2015 |
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