Review: Jo Browning Wroe – A Terrible Kindness

A Terrible Kindness
Jo Browning Wroe

William Lavery comes from a long history of embalmers and is proud of the work he does. Little does he know that the first professional job he does will bring his history, his present, and his future crashing together. While William tries to make sense of his life, the others who care about him are thrown aside and expected to cope.

A Terrible Kindness was a bit of an odd book in the way that it jumped forwards and backwards through time. What I was expecting was a book that had a bit more about the intricacies of embalming and looking after body after it has died. From the back cover, I thought that I was going to learn about different techniques that could be particularly used in an example where the bodies were quite degraded. Also, a direct discussion of about how traumatic it can be to embalm a child.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to be more about mental turmoil of the main character and how his background as a choirboy impacted his life choice to become an embalmer. I found myself very frustrated at times at the undercurrents of, not sexual tension, but hints of homosexuality that affected his wife and his friendships. It was weird to me that this was a thing that needed to be discussed. The music could have been a marvelous distraction and addition, but instead it seemed largely gratuitous and offensive.

In the end I wasn’t really sure what I got out of reading the book. I wouldn’t read it again because I already know what happens in “the big reveal” of what went wrong. What happened when he was a teenager isn’t as exciting as you think it will be, and the ending left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to end it like that! How did William just walk away!? I don’t understand how any man could think that it’s a good idea to walk away from your life and make your wife try to choose someone else. If his life was soo terrible, why was suicide not an option? It was an option for others in similarly dire straights, why not William?

I finished the novel out of a sense of duty. I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it if I knew the ending. 3 stars from me. I’m not sure who to recommend this novel to.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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