The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Set in the early years of WW2, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is the story of Mary, the daughter of an MP, who rushes back from Finishing School when war is declared to volunteer and is assigned a rather unglamorous job as a primary school teacher, and of Alastair, a picture restorer at the Tate, who enlists in the army and is posted to Malta. Unashamedly a love story, this is also a study of British identity, or at least of a particular strata of it, and of how it responded to the cataclysm that engulfed the middle of the twentieth century.
These are people who were brought up to behave well and find themselves trying to cope with a world that is behaving unbelievably badly. They are used to treading lightly through a world of privilege and comfort but now that world is quite literally collapsing all around them.
It was queer the way things crept: the night, and these feelings. One was brought up to scorn the tendency to despair. But it seemed that the darkness knew this, and found a way to reach one nevertheless. It was patient and subtle, gauging the heart’s output of light. Her confusion grew, the heart lucent and the mind lucifugous.
Cleave writes beautifully, his sentences becoming more crystalline and lambent as his characters fall further and further into darkness. But this always an optimistic novel, one in which the possibility of redemption never vanishes entirely. Cleave’s trick is to make of the war itself a metaphor for the transformational processes of love.
What is remarkable is the feeling of authenticity that he generates, the particularity of his descriptions, the physical and emotional minutiae. At the beginning of this book I rather took against the characters with their chirpy banter and their irritating enthusiasm for the conflict. By the end I was totally caught up in their stories, hoping against hope that they would manage re-make their lives amid the ruins of London. To date, this is by far and away my favourite novel of 2016.