Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Chris Cleave’s new book Everyone Brave is Forgiven opens in London, England in the fall of 1939. We know as we begin that war has just been declared.
The title is intriguing – Everyone Brave is Forgiven. One might wonder why someone brave needs to be forgiven – would it not be those who were not brave who might need to be forgiven? Or – is it brave to be the one forgiving someone who has betrayed you? I often wondered about the title as I read.
The book begins with the socially privileged young Mary North wanting to do something important for the war effort. She is assigned to be a teacher to children who have been evacuated from London to the countryside. When this proves to be less than successful she returns to London and teaches a classroom of children whose disabilities or disadvantages forced them to remain in the city.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a difficult novel to review, as it is a book that especially benefits from being read with no knowledge of what is to come.
The story revolves around the experiences of Mary and her friend, Hilda. We learn about the lives they are expected to live as dictated by their social standing - lives they both find impossible to consider during war time as London is bombed. The circumstance of war changes everything for these young women. They are all so very young, though very able to take on the challenges they must face.
There are two young men in their lives, one who remains in London and one who, after fighting in France, is stationed in Malta. The brutal siege of Malta becomes one of the most fascinating portions of the novel.
The beginning of this book was, for me, a little slow and less interesting that I expected – but I did want to know what was going to happen to these characters. It was not until the second half, beginning in the fall of 1940 that the story becomes entirely riveting.
We wonder time and time again who is going to live, and who is going to die. We wonder if love will survive, and how those damaged by war and betrayal will find the will to continue to live. There is sometimes much to forgive, and all must be brave or succumb to the horror of their experiences.
There are couples separated by war, and death. There are children who are orphaned, and children who are killed. When the novel ends it is only 1941 and we wonder how those who remain alive will fare throughout the long years of war to come.
For those of us who have not lived through a war – who have not had our own lives, or those of our loved ones, threatened it is hard to imagine how we would each behave. We hope it would be bravely – but cowardice is entirely understandable and many are broken by both bravery and cowardice.