Review published on January 5, 2016.
I’ve been a longtime fan of this author, I even read his debut, Incendiary, which I found gripping, yet a bit raw, but Chris Cleave really hit his stride and rode the bestseller list with his follow up novel The Other Hand; a brutal, heart-stopping thriller interweaving the lives of a 16-year old Nigerian with a middle class English couple. Published under the alternatively titled Little Bee it was a huge success in the US, too.
Now the author has moved to new territories and timeframes and has come of age as a novelist. Everyone Brave Is Forgotten seems a unique (genuinely to me anyhow) novel of love and sacrifice during the Second World War. It also reminds me of melancholy conversations I’ve occasionally had with ageing relatives. They usually run like this; ‘TV dramas & films often glamourise the war and what it was like to be in it, both amongst the fighting and at home. Well, for those of us who lived through that time, it was actually a dreadfully sad time of loss, unhappiness and endurance’. There’s certainly a glimpse of that feeling in this fantastic novel.
The two main protagonists share only a few pages together, but endure impossibly difficult lives throughout the rest of the war. The story revolves around Mary North, a privileged but attractively rebellious young woman embarking, naively and without any experience, on teaching the children of the London underclass who somehow missed the evacuation. It details her life and loves during 1940-41 in blitz-hit London.
The book has plenty to say about the unfairness of society and the ordinariness of an institutionally racist world desperately in need of change. However, the narrative jolts into pure love story in a key chapter in the middle of the book when she meets anti-war military hero Alistair on leave and on an alcohol-fuelled night out. It’s a genuine ‘whoa’ moment for readers and kept me reading until the end of the book in a single sitting.
The hell that Alistair suffered on Nazi-besieged Malta seems unimaginable today and….no, stop, that’s enough. I can’t tell you too much more without ruining what will be a very fulfilling and enjoyable read.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Sceptre hbk Apr 2016