I received an advanced reader’s copy from Net Galley of Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, the author of Little Bee. It will be released in May.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven is set primarily in London during WWII and at it’s heart it is a love story, but with great details of the war and life during wartime woven in. I don’t want to give too much away, so I am going to be quite vague in my review.
You are introduced first to Mary, an 18 year old wealthy young woman looking for a way out of her predictable life who signs up to be a teacher as Britain joins the war effort. From there we meet the other minor and major characters in the novel including: Zachary (Mary’s black student who she befriends), Tom (Mary’s boss and eventual boyfriend), Alistair (Tom’s roommate who enlists — much of the novel is about Alistair’s war experiences in France and Malta) and Hilda (Mary’s friend who convinces her to sign up for the ambulance squad). All of these characters show bravery as well as human weakness throughout the novel. All of them losing so much as the war carries on seemingly interminably. Mary eventually explains the novels title: “I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season.”
I had a hard time getting into the novel and struggled for most of the first half, but there was something compelling first about Zachary and later about Alistair that kept me going. In the end, I am glad I did. I feel that Cleave created something in this novel. A story of a few people, courageous people, detailed in the experiences of war.
Cleave’s writing was at times wonderfully detailed, while at others too detailed. Maybe it still needed a good editing session. I also found the dialogue to be a little annoying at times, it was too flip and cloying, especially the early dialogue between Tom and Alistair. Later in the book, I found it appropriate and a welcome reprieve from the terror of war, but as a device throughout the novel it was overused.
After finishing the book, I went back and read his Note to the Reader. I am glad I did as he explained that his inspiration for the character of Alistair was his grandfather and that Mary’s character was based on both his grandmothers – one a teacher, the other an ambulance driver during the war.
He says, “I wanted the reader to come away wondering whether forgiveness is possible at a national level or whether it is only achievable through courageous individuals.”
He then adds, “As I wrote, though, I realized I was digging an even smaller hole than that. Now I hope readers will see the book simply as the honest expression of wonder of a little man descended from titans, gazing up at the heights from which he has fallen.”
If we are to take Cleave’s words as meaning that he is the man descended from titans and the one gazing up, I believe he is underestimating his value and the reach of this story.