Mary North, a newly recruited teacher, resolves to stay in London at the outbreak of the Second World War. A number of the city's evacuated children have been returned, quickly and quietly, because the countryside 'doesn't want them'. What good is it to teach a child to count, Mary wonders, if you don't show him that he counts for something?
Across the city, Tom Shaw has decided to give the war a miss, But his quiet world is shattered when his best friend Alistair signs up to fight, trading his art restorer's brush for a rifle.
Moving from Blitz-torn London to the Siege of Malta, this is an extraordinary and unforgettable story of love, prejudice and incredible courage.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is published by Sceptre (Hodder) on 21 April 2016.
I have been a fan of Chris Cleave's writing ever since I read The Other Hand in 2008, I have also read and enjoyed his first novel Incendiary (published in 2006), and his last novel, Gold (published in 2013).
I love how different every one of his books are, his subjects, settings and eras are never the same and I was delighted to hear that his latest book was set during the Second World War.
There are books that make the heart beat so fast, there are books that have passages that just have to be read aloud, to anyone who happens to be nearby at the time, there are books that are so emotionally stunning that you have to put them down, walk away and do something else before you can pick it up again and continue to read. Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a book that made me do all of those things. I know it's only the first week of a new year, but I honestly do think that I've found one of my top books of the year, maybe one of my top books of all time. It is stunning.
The story spans the whole of the Second World War, beginning in London and crossing the seas to France and to Malta, before ending back in a very different London.
Mary North is an eighteen-year-old girl from a privileged background, her father is a politician, her mother is a wife. They are waited on by silent servants who carry silver trays of gin fizz. Mary is polite and pretty, and educated, but she is not a conformist. When war is declared, she leaves her finishing school and joins up. Although she would really rather be a spy than a teacher, she knuckles down to her assignment and creates an unusual learning environment for the very few children still in the City. These are the waifs and strays, the children who were evacuated, but have been returned, much like a faulty radio, or a mouldy piece of cheese. These children are the slow, or the crippled, or the black. Mary loves them all, she nutures them and advocates for them. She risks the wrath of her father and the family name by associating with the undesirables.
Meanwhile, Tom Shaw has made the decision that he will ignore the calls for young men to go to war. He will remain in London and run his schools. His best friend and flat mate Alistair is an art restorer at the Tate and Tom assumes that he too, will stay in London. Tom is making a batch of blackberry jam when Alistair announces that he has joined up. He will do his Officer training and go and fight for his country.
Tom and Mary's paths meet as they carry out their war work, and Everyone Brave is Forgiven is their story, and Alistair's story, which turns into Mary and Alistair's story, and also the story of Zach, Zach is a young black boy, he and his American father live in London where his father performs in the theatre as a minstrel.
Chris Cleave writes beautifully, his story is taken from the memories that his grandfather shared with him about his time in Malta during the war. The story is so very very observant, the characters are warm and witty, and totally believable.
The author does not shy away from the total horror of war, both at home and on the battlefields, and there are passages that took my breath away. The meticulous detail of the scenes of carnage experienced by the soldiers and by those left in London is immaculate, completely faultless, down to the very last word.
From the well-protected and almost blase lives led by the well-connected and rich, to the desperate poverty and almost starvation of the most vulnerable; each and every character jumps from the pages. The abhorrent and loathsome treatment of the few black citizens is so forceful, and Mary's forward-thinking compassion and understanding is a glimmer of light and hope nestled in with the despair and the misery.
Despite the subject, and the pain endured by the characters, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a life-affirming story. It sparkles with wit and humour and characters who always look to a better future instead of dwelling on their current devastating situation.
This is a captivating and all consuming novel that I absolutely loved, and will recommend and shout about for the rest of the year.
I received my review copy courtesy of Lovereading.co.uk
Chris Cleave's debut novel Incendiary, was an international bestseller. His prize-winning second novel, The Other Hand, has found phenomenal success both in the UK and abroad, hitting number one on the New York Times bestseller list (under the title Little Bee).
His third book, Gold, confirmed his status as one of our most powerful, important and psychologically insightful novelists.
Chris lives in London with his wife and three children.
For more information about the author, and his books, visit his website www.chriscleave.com
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Follow him on Twitter @chriscleave