Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

 Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: WWII, London, teacher, love, triumphs

I loved Chris Cleave’s debut novel, The Other Hand, but his subsequent books haven’t been in the same league. With Everyone Brave Is Forgiven he has returned to form. The fact this is based on the experiences of his relatives has ignited a special spark in his writing – the passion and emotion shines through. I even discovered a few more facts about WWII!

The book begins in London at the start of WWII, with Mary North volunteering to become a spy. To her disappointment she is assigned to teach in a primary school, taking over the job from a man who is sent away on war business. Mary forms a bond with the children, particularly Zachary, the son of a black minstrel. But the main focus of the novel is love and the way war impacts on the relationships that are formed during this difficult time.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is very well researched and I loved learning about a slightly different aspect of WWII. There were a few disturbing scenes, but these were balanced by the humour present in the rest of the novel. It was lovely to see how the British public coped with the terrible situation by making light of their plight – the dialogue was fantastic and most of the jokes were new to me.

The imagery was also particularly vivid:

They were all turning to stone from hunger. They took  cover behind stone walls. They painted their trucks and their helmets and their guns to resemble stone blocks, as if by sympathetic magic some hardness might accrue. They saw rubble walls when they closed their eyes at night. Sometimes, when one was particularly hungry, the omnipresent yellow limestone had the exact hue of cheddar, and when the enemy’s paratroopers finally came it would afford about as much protection.

This book covers a subject that has been written about thousands of times before, but somehow Chris Cleave shows it to us in a fresh light. I’m sure it will be on a few prize shortlists later this year.



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9 Comments

  1. Mystica says:

    Both WW are subjects written from a myriad differing aspects. All equally fascinating and different.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, Yes, it’s amazing how many different perspectives the wars can be written from. Unfortunately many authors choose the same perspective and I find myself getting bored by them now I’ve read so many. Luckily this one managed to provide something new :-)

  2. Lucybird says:

    This sounds just like my type of book, adding it to the wishlist. Thanks for the review

    1. Jackie says:

      Lovely. I hope you enjoy reading it!

  3. Charlie says:

    I like the writing style in that extract. It reminds me a little, thinking of the WWs, of Wake, which I loved. I never got to The Other Hand, and came to think it was a bit late even, but this one intrigues me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, I’m afraid I haven’t read ‘Wake’ so can’t compare the two, but I’m pleased you liked the extract.

  4. Nicola Smith says:

    The wonderful Incendiary was his debut novel wasn’t it? I loved that one. In fact, I loved his first three but Everyone Brave is Forgiven was a bit of a disappointment for me. I seem to be in the minority though.

  5. David says:

    I bought a copy of this on the strength of your review, Jackie, and I’m glad I did – it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I was initially wary since there seems to be a glaring anachronism on page 1 but I was soon swept up in the lives of the characters and Cleave’s fresh perspectives on WW2 (the ambulances have been done to death in other books of course, but the teaching aspect, the children who weren’t evacuated, and the siege of Malta were all new to me). I agree he shows well how humour got people through very dark days but I did occasionally wish that not every character would be so witty, and witty in exactly the same way, but Cleave does write genuinely funny dialogue so that was easy to forgive.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I’m really pleased that you enjoyed it! I agree that the characters all tended to have the same style of humour, but luckily I enjoyed it so was willing to forgive that problem. Glad you were able to benefit from a few new WWII perspectives too!

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