This book gave me all the feels! It left me speechless (which is near impossible), inspired, and curious. Just take a moment to read the title… Everyone Brave Is Forgiven… brilliant! When I tell you that this novel is set in London during WWII, this title starts to make sense. And when you read this novel you realize that during war things that were not acceptable before, were pardoned, whether or not you had a conscience about your actions. Ultimately, the ones who did terrible things would never be able to forgive themselves for a lifetime.
It starts off when War is declared, and Mary North, a well-off socialite, leaves school unfinished and signs up. When she finds out her assignment is to become a teacher, she is less than thrilled. Soon after, Mary finds that she has a passion for teaching, and a soft spot for the students. It is here where she meets Tom, and they enter into a relationship of sorts. Tom’s flatmate, Alistar, is enlisted and reappears on a leave. When Alistar meets Mary for the first time on a double date (with other people), they fall in love at first sight. Mary is stuck between two men, a looming war, and her London falling to pieces around her.
This novel is truly a love story, but that isn’t the takeaway for me. Like the title states, and the book reads, it’s about bravery. That we are all not brave in the beginning, but if we start to flex that muscle… it grows. It’s about having a beacon of hope in such a dark time. There were many symbols of hope shining through small everyday items… letters, jam jars, and humour! This novel also felt so entirely British through it’s language and quick wit.
The thing that sets this WWII fiction novel apart from the others I have read is that it showed the aftershocks of a trauma. In war time what the average person was exposed to was so far from their normal. The way that Cleave’s has intertwined the dark humour, and the realities of war was so humanizing in this cast of characters. Obviously all the people who were affected by the war would have a hard time going back to life after, but this isn’t always depicted in your typical WWI and WWII novels. Sometimes I feel like they are too neatly tied up in a bow at the end, and this novel isn’t like that.
One thing I regret, and would encourage to anyone wanting to read this novel would be to turn to the back and start with the “Author’s Note” before you start reading. He describes his whole reason for wanting to write this novel which is incredibly close to his heart. I almost feel inclined to re-read this novel now that I know the “Author’s Note”! He tells the reader that this story was initially inspired by his grandfather who wanted him to write a memoir based on his experiences from the war. When Cleave finds over 1,000 pages of love letters that were between his grandparents during the war, he is then inspired to do something more with his story.
I’ve recently listened to several interviews with Chris Cleave, and something else which is extremely interesting was that he actually went to Malta and lived on the rations of the soldiers there. He did a large amount of research for this novel, and also tried to live the way the soldiers did to know exactly how they were feeling. That’s dedication, my friends! He is also currently doing research to see whether he has enough of a story to write a sequel, which I would love to read and see how he deals with the PTSD from the war that these characters may experience.
Hope you enjoyed this little post about this beautiful book!! And please if you have read it feel free to open up the conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts!