Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave
Published by Hachette NZ

When war is declared, Mary north leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to give it a miss – until his flatmate Alistair unexpectedly enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright and brave, Mary is certain she’ll be a marvellous spy. When she is – bewilderingly – made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Let me preface this review of Everyone Brave is Forgiven by telling you that if you haven’t read a Chris Cleave novel yet, you are missing out on something very, very special. I recently read and adored The Other Hand, and this new novel lives up to all my expectations of this masterful storyteller.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven begins in London as the Second World War is declared, and takes us between London and Malta, where English troops are stationed. The difference between the locations is, initially, stark and sobering, but as war reaches London, comparisons begin to be drawn. There is terror, death and injury where buildings and joy once stood; Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a commentary on the horrors of war, the human cost and the reach of its terror.

At the same time, it is a story of love and small triumphs, of devotion and sorrow, of the capacity of the human mind, and body. It’s a story that will make you laugh out loud, and then cry into your tea. Cleave is a weaver of words, producing dazzling dialogue and setting sumptuous scenes. You’ll find yourself lost among the pages of Everyone Brave is Forgiven, such is the richness of the storytelling.

From the opening paragraph, I was hooked like a fish on a line:

War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon. She did it at lunch, before telegrams came in, in case her mother said no. She left finishing school unfinished. Skiing down from Mont-Choisi, she ditched her equipment at the foot of the slope and telegraphed the War Office from Lausanne.

The scene couldn’t have been more perfectly set, or our heroine more beautifully presented; from the outset, we are shown a Mary North who is much more complex than outward appearances might suggest.

Mary is from a wealthy family; a beautiful socialite who should marry someone from a similar background, and quietly support them in their endeavours. However, Mary is determined that her father’s political career will not define her, and throughout this book, she pushes all the boundaries of the stereotype she should be living up to.

She falls in love with Tom, a natural worrier and pessimist who is eager to please…as long as he doesn’t have to face the realities of war. He will do anything for Mary, but worries that she will find his pacifism a weakness. He doubts his ability to make her happy, yet does everything in his power to make her so. And he succeeds, for the most part, until the inhabitants of London can no longer deny that the war is coming to their shores.

With the arrival of Tom’s flatmate, Alistair, and his subsequent departure to the island of Malta, everything changes. War becomes not only a test of strength and power, but of love and friendship too; proving that the effects of war are not purely those that can be seen. There are prejudices and stereotypes to be disproved, friendships to be explored and tested, and hearts and minds that will be tested beyond any capacity you might expect.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is poignant and beautiful, sorrowful and thought-provoking, and so powerfully written that I feel nothing I write can do it justice. Put this novel at the top of your “Must Read” list, and find a copy now (I’ll make it easy for you – buy it here from Hachette NZ)!

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