I’m really delighted today to be sharing my review of The Kindness Project by Sam Binnie, and helping to spread the word about this wonderful book. Published by Headline Review, it was released first for kindle and as an audiobook on 4th March, and tomorrow (Thursday 8th July) will finally see the release of the paperback edition.
I stumbled across this book largely by accident – Rosanna at Headline first contacted me about a different book by another author that I just couldn’t manage to fit into my reading list. But when we chatted and I told her more about the books I enjoy, she told me about this one – how everyone who’s read this book falls in love with it, and how passionately the team felt about it. And then she mentioned mothers and daughters, and community, and I just couldn’t resist – and it’s the best decision I’ve made in a very long time, because I really loved it too.
You might already have noticed some of the other activity around the paperback release. The lovely Meggy Roussel launched the #ShareKindness hashtag on Twitter on Monday, asking everyone to share one of the small kindnesses that got you through 2020 – and she has five copies of the book to give away too. And I’ve done something a little different today too, over on Twitter – a thread with a short Q&A with the author, and you can find that here.
Let’s see if the book’s description makes it feel as totally unmissable to you as it did to me…
Step 1. Help the baker’s ex-wife
Step 2. Find the true calling of the village shop owner
Step 3. Call a truce on a decades-old feud
Step 4. Forgive me . . . ?
The locals of the Cornish village of Polperran are grieving the sudden loss of Bea Kimbrel, a cornerstone of their small community.
Now her reclusive, estranged daughter Alice has turned up, keen to tie up Bea’s affairs and move on.
But Alice receives a strange bequest from Bea – a collection of unfinished tasks to help out those in Polperran most in need.
As each little act brings her closer to understanding her mother, it also begins to offer Alice the courage to open her clamped-shut heart. Perhaps Bea’s project will finally unlock the powerful secrets both women have been keeping…
The Kindness Project will draw you deep into the lives of two compelling women who should never have missed their chance to say goodbye. It will break your heart – and piece it back together again…
Alice’s mother, Bea, stopped being a significant part of her life when she walked away from her home and family when Alice was a child. She moved to Polperran in Cornwall – Alice remained in Cambridge with her father – and the visits, that were never easy, slowly petered out to become just the very occasional telephone call. When she hears her mother has died – when she wasn’t aware she was ill – there is a moment’s sadness (with a touch of guilt), but Alice heads to Cornwall with the aim of doing the necessary, putting her mother’s house on the market, so that she can return to Cambridge and the working life that sustains her. But her mother had other ideas: when Alice visits the solicitor, she finds her mother left a series of letters setting out tasks she wanted her to fulfil – a few things she hadn’t managed to achieve herself – and it seems her visit isn’t going to be quite as quick and business-like as she hoped it would be.
Alice lives for work – she’s an academic and lecturer, immersed in the history of the Black Death with hopes of producing a book delving into its intricacies. She lives a solitary life – her only friend is her work supervisor, her encounters with others are only fleeting, and she really does prefer it that way. When she arrives in Polperran, she hopes to avoid all but the most necessary contact with people – the gardener ever present at her mother’s cottage is rather an uncomfortable surprise. And then she does need to go out for the necessities – a sandwich in the run-down local cafe, buying the essentials in the village shop, a meal in the local pub. But her mother’s letters mean that she’s forced to engage with people in a way that she never expected, and it’s something she initially finds particularly uncomfortable – but she also discovers that her mother was very much part of the small community, loved by many, and that there were layers of her life that Alice was never aware of.
In uncovering her mother’s secrets, we begin to see a change in Alice herself. At first, she struggles to communicate – small talk really isn’t her thing, she’s a bit spiky, tends to shout a bit, avoiding eye contact while looking at her feet. But she begins to carry out her tasks and is swept up in the life of the community and the relationships between its residents – and as she gets to know her mother rather better, through the wonderful letters she left behind and the memories of others, we begin to discover that she has a few well-hidden secrets of her own. And I really liked the way the reader’s relationship with Alice changed too – if you don’t really like or sympathise that much with her at the beginning, I entirely guarantee that she’ll go on to win your heart, as she did mine.
I was going to say “this book is all about the power of the community” – but it really is far more than that. Every single character in this book is quite wonderfully drawn, every one with their own story – as Alice does, you become entirely caught up in their lives, their small dramas and some of their more serious issues too. The way the story unfolds is an absolute joy – every small storyline engaging, along with Alice’s impact on people’s lives as she attempts to achieve a few things that were beyond her mother’s reach. But then there are those letters, and the Bea we get to know so well through sharing them – they’re written with immense love, and can’t fail to touch you to the heart, knowing that this was a love Alice was entirely unaware of when her mother was alive. I’m always a total pushover for stories with a strong sense of community, and equally attracted by anything connected to the mother and daughter relationship – and you really won’t find either aspect much better handled than they are in this wonderful book.
The writing really is superb. Because of the “kindness” theme I was rather expecting something light and a bit fluffy – along the lines of the romcoms I read so often and enjoy. But it really isn’t, and I’d urge anyone who prefers their reading rather more substantial to give it a try – although there’s plenty of lightness and gentle humour, there’s a fine touch with the emotional content too, and quite a few more serious issues lurking beneath the surface. The balance is quite perfect – at times heartbreaking, but the next smile is never that far away. It’s a tremendously uplifting read, filled with love, all about the power of connecting with others, how being yourself is sometimes enough. I absolutely adored it, and this was one of the best books I’ve read this year.
About the author
Sam Binnie has written for the Guardian, Vice magazine, and Google’s Creative Lab, among others, and was the 2005 winner of the Harper’s/Orange Prize Short Story Competition. The Kindness Project is her fourth novel.
She swims year-round in her local river, and makes the best pink grapefruit cake you’ll ever eat.