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.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a book to immerse yourself in; to lose yourself in completely as the scene and characters take you back to 1940’s wartime Britain, a devastating era but one that truly fascinates me- I love reading novels set during the Second World War despite- and I suppose partly due to- their poignancy.
The way each character is crafted is fantastic. Mary is a wonderful character who I instantly warmed to despite coming from a very priveleged background, and Alistair is also a really likeable guy. Some of the other characters I really didn’t like, but it’s a testament to Chris Cleave’s writing that you can dislike them hugely (Alicia, for example, is a real pain) but still understand some of where they’re coming from, as products of their time and background, and why Mary and other characters may still be friends with them regardless.
The novel begins at the outbreak of war, so we never really get to know the characters and what their lives were like before this huge event happens. We do, however, see how the longer the war goes on, the more their lives all change, and we see Mary become even more headstrong and independent. She was one of the few characters that seemed to realise that just because someone doesn’t have white skin, it doesn’t make them a bad person, despite her family and friends seeming to feel that black people are a ‘lesser race’ than white. Mary’s forward thinking is truly a beacon of light amongst such hatred and nastiness; without her, I’d have read the novel feeling utterly hopeless. Often I would feel really surprised and let down when a character that I thought wouldn’t utter such racism- for example, Simonson after reading Hilda’s letter to Alistair, commenting upon Mary’s association with the black community in London, saying; “Niggers are niggers, there’s no consortable kind” and announcing her a ‘fallen’ woman and ‘lost’- did. This makes you consider the fact that this was such a widespread attitude at that time that there were people who might have been otherwise nice people, but bought into this racist ideology.
There were plenty of other parts that really shocked and saddened me throughout, but all of it is written in such a way that it’s not overly dramatic or exaggerated, it’s just how things were. There’s also a persevering element of hope that many of the characters cling onto. They themselves don’t necessarily do anything out of the ordinary for that time- going to fight, helping with the war effort, teaching, entertaining- and the story, though containing lots of drama and danger, is actually describing the lives of many people during WW2, something many of us can’t really imagine today. It’s such a wonderfully written novel full of humour, positivity and emotion that, despite being fairly long, I enjoyed every minute, savouring it and not wanting it to end!