Author: Chris Cleave
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "War was declared at 11:15 and Mary North signed up at noon."
Book Description from GoodReads: From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.
A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
My Review: I'm an avid reader of WWII fiction so this book greatly appealed to me. This is my first book by Chris Cleave and it was clear that he has done his homework researching what life was like for civilians during the London Blitz and the living conditions on Malta for British soldiers. In fact, in the author's note at the end of the book Cleave states that the book was inspired by his own grandfather's experiences during WWII when he was stationed in Malta to keep an eye on Winston Churchill's son, Randolph.
Readers will instantly notice Cleave's writing style which is simply beautiful. Cleave is quite descriptive of the time, atmosphere and place. The plot itself isn't fast-paced but I still found it to be quite a page-turner. That said, at times his writing was almost too descriptive which sometimes distracted from the plot.
War is devastating, all-encompassing and horrific so it might sound odd that my favourite part of this book was the humour. It was dry, hilarious and wonderfully witty - just how I like it. It feels odd (and almost trite)to say that humour was one of my favourite things about a book featuring war, death and destruction but it's true. His humour is spot on and I adored the banter between the characters, often finding myself re-reading many of their quips to have a quick giggle again. I didn't find it off putting and found it to show that even during horrible situations people will use humour to keep the darkness at bay.
Cleave shows many aspects of war - love, loss, race, injustice, bigotry and how status greatly affected how different classes of people experienced the same war. This was more of a personal look at war and showed how different characters struggled to be brave (with different levels of success) but with the exception of a couple of tense situations, it wasn't as gritty of a read as I was expecting.
I liked the main characters (Mary, Tom, Hilda and Alastair) in varying degrees. They each had their own issues surrounding the war and were reasonably well constructed and believable (except for Tom who was rather bland). I felt like I sort of got to know Mary but felt like her inner feelings were just out of reach for me (as well as herself) ... and perhaps that was the point. Alastair was the character who truly shined for me and really the only one whom I felt I got to understand well.
Overall, this was a good read. The writing is excellent, the humour is top notch. Cleave has given his readers an interesting look at London during the Blitz while his characters struggle to be brave in the face of war, each handling their fate and emotions with varying degrees of efficacy. War strips away the excess and leaves people bare with only their true selves - the good, the bad and the things we don't want to admit even to ourselves. I look forward to reading more from Chris Cleave in the future.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.