The intervention of the miraculous into the everyday is Susan Hill’s subject matter in this lyrical novella. Her setting, evoked with precision and élan, is an unspecified industrial town, the inhabitants of which toil and breed in the looming shadows of the factories that sustain them. They deal with layoffs, malaise and deaths, bearing it all with fortitude, and none more so than Eve’s family. Eve is a gentle girl, although she can harbour passionate feelings, as when her sister is married off to a boneheaded lunk, and Eve, notwithstanding said lunkishness, burns with envy as she can’t bear to think that she’ll be left behind, a spinster, with her mother. But then fate, in the form of Tommy Carr – the kind man of the title – enters her life when he rescues a package she accidentally drops into a canal. Eve almost believes that she has willed him into existence. This sense of providence, of a controlling intelligence, seems right in a book that is so carefully formed.
Tommy’s consideration for her feelings leads him to take Eve to a row of cottages outside the town where she can feel free and light and prepare for a child. They are innocent and untouched, almost holy: Eve feels that Tommy provides a ‘protected circle’ for her. A