War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon. She did it at lunch, before telegrams came, in case her mother said no.
The inimitable Chris Cleave has done it again. Clear your diaries so you have time to devour his stunning new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, a beautifully written book with a powerful combination of humour and heartache and characters that stay with you long after the last page.
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’d be a marvelous spy. When she is – bewilderingly – made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary. And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams. The novel takes place over the whole of the Second World War, set in London and on the battlefields, weaving in some lesser-known historical events, from soldiers stationed in Malta to the minstrel performances that it’s hard to believe were still being performed at the time.
Cleave writes beautifully – a deceptively simple sentence can feel like a punch in the chest and he can make you both laugh and despair in a single paragraph. The story tells of the heroism of the everyday British people during the second world war, as well as the soldiers serving. Cleave does not gloss over the realities of war, and he shows us that not all people can be heroes all the time. We witness the absolute devastation war can bring, both for those that go away and those left behind, and we are left to question what true bravery means.
In his previous books, Cleave has written strong and unforgettable female leading characters, and this one is no exception. We cheer Mary on, and are happy in her triumphs. Her best friend Hilda is both extraordinary and funny, and we can (sometimes) sympathise with Mary’s mother. These are characters that are not only believable, but absolutely memorable. A Chris Cleave novel is one where you can escape completely, and emerge as though you have visited another time and place.
Chris Cleave’s debut novel Incendiary was a prize-winner and international bestseller and his second novel, The Other Hand found phenomenal success, hitting number one on the New York Times bestseller list. He is married with three children, and lives in Surrey, England. Find out more at www.chriscleave.com.
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