We live you see, and even a mule like me must learn. I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season. – Mary North
Many of my book reviews end up in The Lady (click here if you care to know what I’ve been reading) but some also appear on The Mitford Society. I try to keep the genres relevant to what we Mitties might enjoy, and so I decided to share Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave with you.
Based on a true story, Chris Cleave’s plot was inspired by his grandparents love affair during the Blitz. Mary North, a reluctant debutante who dreams of becoming a spy, resolves to stay in London and teach at an inner-city school. Although many of the children have been evacuated, some have been returned because the countryside ‘doesn’t want them’, or because they are not white and, or, British. What good is it to teach a child to count, Mary wonders, ‘if you do not show him that he counts for something?’
Meanwhile, Tom Shaw decides to give the war a miss, until his flatmate Alistair enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided. In love with Mary, Tom finds that he would do anything for her, but when she meets Alistair it is love at first sight.
Set to the backdrop of war torn London and the Siege of Malta, the lives of Mary, Tom and Alistair – entangled in lies, violence, passion and friendship – will never be the same again.
A lot of reviews have compared Everyone Brave is Forgiven with Atonement (the best bits, they said) and I can see the strong parallels between Mary and Celia, and how their characters evolve. Like Atonement, it is character driven and a slow read, especially in the beginning as the story and its protagonists negotiate their way in a dangerous, new world, and lose their innocence in the interim. Aside from the racial views of the day – the alienation, the ignorance – Mary must also learn to adapt to the class divide as she ventures from the comfort zone of her upbringing. So, there are a lot of elements at play, both at the centre of the plot and as subplots, weaving several golden threads through the story.
It is evident that the story is a personal one for Chris Cleave, and I think that is apparent within the text – he has crafted strong and sympathetic characters, beautiful prose, and an engaging plot.