Author Polly Samson.The Kindness
By Polly Samson
Bloomsbury, $29.99. Buy now on Booktopia
Julian is single and a talented English student, with a particular interest in Milton’s Paradise Lost. A good degree beckons and, perhaps, a fine academic career. Julia is married, but no longer happily, and eight years older than Julian.
After meeting by chance they begin an affair which, after Julia is assaulted and raped by her husband, becomes a permanent relationship in London. Julian abandons his studies and begins writing children’s books (ultimately with great success), while Julia works in a plant nursery.
When their daughter Mira is born, their happiness is only enhanced. Then to Julian’s delight, he learns his adored boyhood country home, Firdaws, is for sale and he buys it: for him, paradise regained.
This is the basis of Polly Samson’s second novel, the narrative beginning in 1989 and ending in 2012. Yet, it is far from a regular linear storyline, one event following the other in sequence.
Samson has structured much of her novel in the present, then the past, present again, then past. Not uncommon.
However, Samson’s method can make the reading unnecessarily confusing. Julian, for example, might in one sentence or paragraph be doing something or having a conversation at Firdaws in the present; then, in the next, he is doing or saying something similar there as a boy or youth.
It often takes a few seconds to register the time shift. A more delineated pattern would have given the story more coherence, yet retained the overall effect.
After Julian, Julia and Mira move to Firdaws, all seems well, at least on the surface. Julian has reacquainted with his boyhood sweetheart, Katie, now married with children and living nearby.
Although Julia is understandably a little uncomfortable with Katie’s presence in her new life, she copes. Trouble is, to keep her garden job she needs to be in London, and this impedes togetherness with Mira and Julian, who works from home.
Then comes the great upheaval in their lives. Mira becomes seriously ill, the grim reaper seemingly hovering over her hospital bed.
From now, the drama steadily increases, with peripheral characters increasingly evident and influential in the action, while more of the past emerges, including a potentially devastating personal secret. The sub-climax is shattering, the finale moderated and reflective.
Whether a reader sits comfortably with Samson’s structure or not, the substance of her very human story is compelling and at times highly emotional, let alone occasionally heart-rending.
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