I haven’t read Susan Hill’s books, I haven’t read anything about the author, and I can’t recall how I discovered this book. Just like the atmosphere in A Kind Man, everything seems hazy. But I am glad all the same. This unpopular work of Susan Hill is a gem.
Tommy Carr — our kind man — and Eve are happily married. They live in a cottage with abundant access to fields, flowers, fresh breeze, sunshine, and happiness. They are childless for a long while, but that doesn’t dampen their spirits, for the kind man always said that it would happen in its own time. He is wise, patient, caring, and of course, utterly, utterly kind.
Life can’t go on that way, can it? Life can’t continue to be beautiful. They have a child, only to lose her to brain fever in three years. Quite like the grey cloud that hovers over the peak that Eve keeps watching all the time, sadness and melancholia hang around their humble cottage, slipping out effortlessly only to darken my heart.
The child is gone. Can they be left to be happy with their lustrous china, and blossoms that catch the sun, and the chickens that reduce the loneliness with all the clucking, and a job that feeds two mouths? No. Tommy is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Eve tries to gather courage. Her daughter is dead, and her husband is dying. How is she going to live after him? Her night is filled with anxiety, fear, and terror. But the next morning, Tommy recovers and looks as healthy as a horse.
The doctor, who treats Tommy, is puzzled. Eve is so shocked that she refuses to allow her husband to go out, lest he might become ill anytime. But, Tommy has got a new life. As soon as he begins to feel like a new person, he walks up to the churchyard where their daughter is buried.
After the recovery, Tommy is not the same man anymore. He is still kind, but he has acquired a magical power. He can heal anybody with his touch. Bring any sort of ailing people to him, he can cure them by holding their hands, and passing ‘heat’ from his body to theirs. It’s a mystery that Tommy cannot comprehend. It’s a secret that nobody in the sleepy town can understand. So long as the ailments are cured, nobody could complain.
Tommy is a reluctant healer. For he doesn’t understand the source of his newly acquired power, he is hesitant to practise, and he is against practising it for money. How will destiny let him be principled? He is fired from his current job. Eve accepts a cleaning job, where her back is exposed to a lot of pressure. They can’t pay their rent. They are slowly losing all their money.
The conundrum arises now. Will the kind man agree to use his power for money? Will the little family become happy again? What will he gain or lose if money begins to play a pivotal role? Will he be haunted by guilt for using a power that he doesn’t grasp well?
As I begin to wrestle with these questions, Susan Hill offers one answer after the other, in her lyrical, moving, poignant, and profound prose.
“Everyone has a time when they are in their prime of life. Everyone has as little as one year when they are the best they will ever be, the healthiest, strongest, most handsome, most full of energy and hope, when they might do anything and it can be seen upon them, this prime, in their eyes, on their skin, in their walk. But they do not know it. Perhaps they cannot know it. If they could they would not wish the time away, as people do, even children when they are unhappy or sick or trailing through some tedium of growing up. No one can know it about themselves but others may know. Others can see it on them and envy them. But it may even pass them by and then it is over and can never be recalled. And years later, they look back and know, recognise it as having been their prime, but of course by then it has gone and cannot be recalled.”
Life should not be this unkind to a man who has been nothing but kind.
A Kind Man made me angry. I wanted to question the laws of nature. I wanted to debate about the laws of karma. I wanted to understand what else could the kind man do to survive. I might not have found answers to my questions, but the book cannot be blamed for that. It is a gem. Certainly a gem.
Susan Hill’s world in A Kind Man is bleak — grey clouds, cold floor, frost on the air — when Eve and Tommy are depressed. Their house is filled with light when their hearts brim with hope.
The play of light and darkness in Eve’s house establish the surreal setting for the novella that oscillates between dream and despair, and love and loss.
To me — an unassuming reader — Tommy Carr’s kindness is not reflected in how he cures the myriad illness of the rich and the poor. His kindness is evident in the tea he fixes for Eve in the morning, in watering the blossoms, in feeding the chickens, in tending their garden, in buying a blue scarf for her, and in buying a rose-scented soap for his wife who is the best recipient of his unadulterated kindness.
That man deserves a better life.
Susan Hill has made me sad. But I am proud of the kind man.