The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe

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The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: An easy to read, though emotionally unsettling, story that leaves you with lots of questions to think about afterwards.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Robinson Publishing
ISBN: 978-1849012089

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Imagine that your partner of twenty or so years discovers that they are dying from a terminal disease. Now imagine that they've asked you to help them to die a little sooner, on their own terms. What would you do? This is the dilemma that faced Deborah and, after she went ahead and helped her husband Neil to die, she found herself charged and standing trial for murder with her own teenage daughter, Sophie, testifying against her.

This was a well-researched story that rang true throughout. It often felt like a real-life tale, and I liked the subtle way the present day situations for Deborah, as she's in prison awaiting her trial date, or in the courtroom facing the jury's verdict, were intermingled with her memories of her husband and their life together, both before his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease and after it. We get to know Deborah slowly through the story and although I often felt that at times I didn't really like her very much as a character, I certainly sympathised with her situation.

Deborah's character comes to life in the light of her relationships with her parents including the early death of father, her difficult relationship with her mother who refused to speak about her father, as well as her developing romance and marriage to Neil and the birth of her son and daughter. Details are revealed gradually, outlining her character and completing the story slowly piece by piece.

The one aspect I didn't really like within the book was the portrayal of the husband, Neil. He felt like a rather empty character somehow, as if all of the detail had gone into Deborah with none left over for Neil. His worsening health isn't, I felt, particularly well described. It's almost as if he doesn't seem that sick when he requests Deborah's help in committing suicide, and I felt more could have been made of this to really illustrate how difficult and demeaning life can become for those who are terminally ill. It also meant that I didn't feel as emotionally involved in the story as I otherwise might have.

The book doesn't set out, I don't think, to decide one way or another if assisted suicide is morally right or wrong. It merely raises a lot of questions, and prompts the reader to question what they would do if they were in Deborah's situation. It is obviously, at times, rather depressing reading, but there are moments of humour within the story too, as well as a few sprinkled sex scenes (which I actually found a little odd and out of place but to each his own I suppose!) This is certainly one to save for when you're in a 'happy place', but it's still an interesting subject and is sensitively handled.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For more novels dealing with terminal illness try:

Love Life by Ray Kluun

Right to Die by Hazel McHaffie or

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

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