Friday, 4 March 2011

A Kind Man

I read my first Susan Hill book back in the dim, misty past of my college days. Nestled in my English Lit reading list amongst Thomas Hardy, T.S.Eliot, G.B.Shaw, Grahame Greene etc was I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill. To an 18 year old who was more used to reading wall to wall epic fantasy and sci-fi I found Hill's writing the most accessible, though I admit it wasn't until a much later reread that I really appreciated the sheer depth and truth of her writing. Although A kind Man doesn't hit the heights of her earlier works it is as ever a very emotive read. This short book initially seems to be a somewhat prosaic story, set in a northern mill town during a hard depression, about the life paths of two sisters and the petty resentments that follow. One sister, Mirriam, marries a selfish and inconsiderate man, the other, Eve, marries the titular kind man, Tommy Carr, as selfless and giving a man as it 's possible to know. Mirriam can't stop having children, all boys, and Eve struggles to conceive at all. Eventually she has a single girl. From early on in the narrative, Hill generates a sense of anxiety, which is very subtly felt at first, but as the story advances and tragedy strikes, this anxiety slowly increases. What happens next is totally unexpected and far from prosaic. It's Hill's skill in engendering empathy from the reader for her characters that draws the reader in, making you worry for them and pre-empt their decisions. Essentially the book is a parable about love and kindness in a world that seems to be forgetting their value in a self made hell of drudgery and selfishness.

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