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Book Review: A terrible kindness by Jo Browning Wroe

I’m back after a slight hiatus.

Ah, A terrible kindness by Jo Browning Wroe is another example of social media advertising working exceptionally well.

Book adverts appearing on my Facebook timeline, are responsible for at least 90% of my ever-growing TBR list and, no I’m not going to scroll through my kindle and count the number of unread books. I’ll live in blissful ignorance until I inevitably start to feel guilty by midsummer, make a list of books I already own I want to read, pledge not to buy anymore until I’ve read my list and then fail miserably.

Anyway, back to this beautifully, tender book, ‘A Terrible Kindness’, is Jo Browning Wroe’s debut and it is incredibly moving.

It’s the story of 19-year-old William, he’s just qualified as an embalmer.

He’s attending his first black tie do; the Midlands Chapter of the Institute of Embalmers Ladies’ Night Dinner Dance.

William’s ready to start his career, and hopefully win over Gloria, when news reaches the dinners of a horrific disaster in Wales.

A landslide at coal mine has buried a school in Aberfan.

William volunteers to go and care for the dead, this will be his first job and it will have a long-lasting impact on his mental health and his life.

I was aware of the Aberfan disaster before reading this book, I briefly saw some of the coverage of 55thanniversary last year.

For those who aren’t aware, 144 people were killed when the colliery spoil tip collapsed sending slurry hurtling towards the village below, including the primary school. 116 of those killed were children.  

The pictures are horrific, the survivors’ stories are heart-breaking.

While Aberfan is a real story, William is not a real person, Aberfan is used as the backdrop for the book.

This is a fictionalised account of what happened behind the scenes in October 1966, the way strangers tried to help the parents. Embalmers headed there to care for the victims and ensure parents were given closure and their children a dignified funeral.

The majority of this book is about how William has to come to terms with what he’s seen and other decisions he’s made in his past that continue to shape his life.

In the aftermath of Aberfan, William suffers nightmares and flashbacks, it solidifies his decision not to have children. He can’t bear the thought of losing his own child but his problems with committing to Gloria and a family, run much deeper.

His father passed away when he was eight, he’s now estranged from his mother, hasn’t spoken to his best friend in five years. His career as a chorister came to an abrupt end in flurry of red tulips.

I understand some of the criticism around this book. I can understand why some people are uncomfortable with the use of the Aberfan disaster, but Jo Browning Wroe, doesn’t sensationalise it in my opinion, she handles it with sensitivity.

In a way, A Terrible Kindness is a coming-of-age tale as the story takes the reader back through William’s childhood and ultimately how he became an embalmer. It is an account of the effects of PTSD and what happens when it is ignored. 

I’d say it’s a story about the fragility of life and what it’s like to be human.

It’s about forgiveness and finding kindness in the darkest moments.

“When we go through impossible things, someone, or something, will help us, if we let them.” Jo Browning Wroe

That’s a sentiment that at times is easy to forget.

On a final note, after finishing this wonderful book, I saw a bunch of Tulips in the supermarket and promptly bought them, they’re currently blooming beautifully in my kitchen.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

19 thoughts on “Book Review: A terrible kindness by Jo Browning Wroe Leave a comment

  1. I remember it well – certainly there is a film which uses the disaster as a back drop – it’s a strange premise to object to – how many novels are based on WW2 or well hundreds of historical catastrophes. I’m very pleased to add it to my list. Great review – thanks, Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was not aware of this desaster but I can understand how horrible it must have been. Your review is fantastic. It certainly makes me think about the hero’s journey and hiw this experience affected his life. I have added it in my TBR list.


  3. I was aware of this disaster after seeing a documentary on it last year. This story sounds very humbling as this character challenges PTSD. I love that you bought tulips in acknowledgment of this book.


  4. This sounds like a very heartbreaking book. Being Canadian, the Aberfan Disaster is not something I am familiar with, but now that I know, I am going to learn more. I am definitely adding this book to my TBR. Wonderful, thoughtful review, Sarah.


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