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review 2018-03-31 15:58
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

"EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN" offers the reader a broad look into the lives of 4 people between September 1939 and June 1942. First there's Alistair Heath and his friend Tom Shaw. Both of them were sharing a place in London at the time war was declared. Alistair promptly enlisted in the Army while Tom (who didn't share Alistair's keenness to join the Forces and felt that the war would soon resolve itself) continued in his job in the education department. Then there's Mary North and her childhood friend Hilda. Mary - who hails from an affluent background with a father a Member of Parliament - returned to the UK from finishing school in Switzerland, set on finding a job that would put her in the heart of the war effort. She ends up being placed in a school to teach a number of pupils, one of whom is an illiterate African American boy named Zachary (whose father came over to the UK to work as an entertainer in a minstrel show). It proves to be a short-lived job as Mary's class is relocated to the countryside without her. Mary goes to see Tom - who has some pull in the system - to see if she can be placed in another teaching position. 

In the meantime, Alistair proceeds with his training, endures a rigorous, extended outdoor exercise, and is later sent to France with his unit. 

While the writing is generally good, the story of these 4 people as the war went on, didn't really gell with me. Mary seemed rather flippant, though she had a certain, at times admirable forthrightness. Once she got it in her mind that she was in love with Tom, she went after him. Tom comes across as the self-effacing, tight-lipped Englishman. Alistair's unit got caught up in the chaos of the German Blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the spring of 1940 and barely manages to escape to Britain via Dunkirk. He returns as a shell-shocked officer. For him, the war has already changed his outlook in many ways. He and Tom get together and Tom coaxes him into going out on a date with him and Mary and Hilda. Hilda sees the war as a great adventure and is eager to find a man who suits her fancy. Alistair seems to fit the bill. But the date was rather odd. I won't spell out the particulars of it. But shortly afterwards, Alistair's unit is posted overseas and the relationships among the 4 people become strange and rather convoluted. 

This novel is not a keeper.

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review 2017-03-02 15:59
"Everyone Brave is Forgiven", by Chris Cleave
Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

“Everyone Brave Is Forgiven”, is a historical novel set in London and Malta during the Second World War. The story is inspired by the lives of the author’s grandparents: his grandfather served in Malta and his grandmother drove ambulances during the Blitz.

The novel follows four protagonists from the outbreak of the war to the summer of 1942.

Mary North, is a privileged daughter of an MP, after signing up for the war effort is assigned a teacher job. Through her job she meets, Tom Shaw, the head of the local education authority. A relationship blossoms between the two till Mary meets Alistair……

Alistair Heath, an art restorer and Tom’s best friend has enlisted for active duty and is deployed to Malta to defend the island. The siege of Malta is so sentimentality and skillfully described, it really pulls on our heartstrings…..it is hard not to be riveted all through this segment.

Finally we meet Hilda, Mary’s best friend. When she joins Mary’s on her second assignment as ambulance drivers attending to London’s victims we are in a sweeping epic of unforgettable players and emotionally charged scenes.

In alternate chapter each story is told as it progresses in time.

Of course the theme is, the War, and throughout the novel Mr. Cleave portrays the experience with skill and the catastrophic effects of the blitz. He takes the dull, drab realities of war, the continuous bombardment, the constant hunger, etc. and portraits the lives of the people on the siege vividly. We have scenes involving a bullying sergeant and the cruelties embittered by Maltese mob against a German soldier that are quite moving. On the other hand the characters dialogue lacks fluency and at time is insufferably slow. Their attempt at humour falls flat and seems to be off-key. Maybe the author wanted his characters to speak as they did in 1940 but today all this seems to be somewhat rigid….

“Everyone Brave Is Forgiven”, is terribly overwritten and a little melodramatic. But again these are my thoughts and should not affect readers that are contemplating to give this book a go, after all many have given it high marks. I am just a little sad I didn’t enjoy this book as much as my friends (others) did.

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review 2017-02-09 15:15
Evocative of WWII
Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

I have read all of Chris Cleave's books but I'm afraid this was the one I enjoyed the least. The rest of my book group thoroughly enjoyed it and one member came armed with all the wonderful quotes that had appealed to her, but it didn't excite me.


I have procrastinated with this review because I'm not exactly sure what it was about the book that dropped it to three (and a half) stars. A lot happens, and I'm wondering if I found the transitions a bit chunky. The flow of a book is always very important to me. I also related to some of the characters more than others, which could have affected my response.


We were lucky to meet Chris Cleave at our Literary festival and it was fascinating to hear how he had drawn from his grandfather's experiences during WWII, when he was stationed in Malta, some of which he used in the narrative.


I loved the vibrant character of Mary; she is from a wealthy family but throws herself into the war effort. She had fancied herself as a spy but takes on the role of teacher with enthusiasm. Her students end up being the children rejected from the country evacuations - children with disabilities and colour.

The two other main characters were her boss, Tom, an administrator in education, and his artistic friend, Alistair. Neither of these characters interested me as much as Mary, but both of them play an important part in her life.

There is also a side story around one of Mary's pupils, Zach, a black boy whose father is a minstrel in the Minstrel Show in London. Zach is one of the children rejected from the countryside, probably dyslexic, and Mary develops a special fondness for him.


Judging from the reactions of my friends I would highly recommend this book, don't take any notice of my views, I was definitely in the minority :)


Previously read:

Little Bee (The Other Hand) - 4 stars

Incendiary - 5 stars

Gold - 4 stars

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review 2016-10-25 03:18
Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

It happens every once in a while, that I find myself reading a bunch of books set during World War II. These seem to come out in groups, never just one random book on the topic. To be fair, I chose them all, but I don’t always plan well in spacing out the reading. That is how I found myself listening to one book while reading another, both of them taking place during the war.


What I found odder still is that as a topic, this one would seem to be exhausted; and yet here I am, impressed with Cleave’s ability to show yet another perspective. This novel is almost an examination of manners and the class system in London, with war as the setting that allows certain lines to be crossed. I listened to this book and I was glad I did, besides the fact that everything just sounds better with an English accent. There is so much clever banter between the characters in this book — the naïve young teacher and her clever students, the soldiers coveting each other’s personal stores of food and letters, and the lovers trying to make the most of time and circumstances — the audiobook captured these moments with charm and grace. When it was at it’s sharpest, I was reminded of the very best scenes from the television show, MASH; particularly when the men practice teatime conversations while crouched in a fox hole or on a long night’s watch. While it did not move me to the extent of All the Light We Cannot See, (that’s a high bar in my opinion) it was still a beautifully written book. And though the plot was sometimes a bit slow and predictable, I found it comforting, because I enjoyed these characters, and I wasn't eager to give them up too soon.

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review 2016-07-23 16:11
Insightful presentation of England during WWII
Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave, author; Luke Thompson, narrator.

I enjoyed this book on several levels. I learned a lot about the English experience during WWII and about the racism that existed there that I had never known before. Through the interaction of several characters that play a major part in the story, the war years come to life. It is through the experiences and beliefs of Mary, Tom, Alistair, Zachary, and Hilda, from different walks of life, that the atmosphere in England and the theater of war is made truly visible to the reader.

The story is narrated expertly by Luke Thompson using a unique voice for each character which was individually discernible and identifiable. The romantic side of the story may be a bit too obvious, but the details of the war were graphic and descriptive giving the reader a credible picture of life there, at that time. The reader is placed right into the thick of things with bombs falling, soldiers dying and the citizenry suffering the exigencies of war in their own individual ways, according to their circumstances. There were shortages; there was destruction coupled with grave injuries and death, but there was also love and romance, compassion and dedication, all existing in varying degrees side by side, depending on where one lived and the class from which one came.

Mary North marched to the beat of her own drummer, even as an 18 year old teenager. She defied the rules of her upper class hierarchy. She attempted to join the war effort and was given a teaching post, although she had absolutely no experience. She realized that she loved working with the children but was fired because she treated Zachary Lee, a black student, with what was thought of as excessive kindness and concern; she simply treated him as she would treat any of the white students. She was basically disciplined for her compassion and honesty and broad minded acceptance of all people and their equal ability to succeed.

When she met Tom Shaw, who was in charge of hiring, she begged for another position. He was from a different class, but he was smitten by her. Their romance blossomed, and he subsequently created a teaching position for her, even when the budget was tight. Together they helped those young evacuees rejected by the families in the countryside because they were deficient, disabled or black. She introduced her best friend Hilda, not quite as lovely or socially adept as Mary, to Tom’s friend, Alistair Heath. Alistair was an art restorer from the appropriate upper class. When Alistair and Mary met, there was a spark that ignited the chemistry between the two of them instead. Mary resisted it, at first, because she loved Tom, and because Hilda was angry that she was once again attempting to take a beau away from her. Alistair is soon shipped out to Malta where he experiences the brutal hardships of war on that small barren island.

The author made the class consciousness of the Brits extremely transparent using the views of the various characters. Even some of the more broad and open minded upper classes viewed the blacks as “less than”. Those in the lower classes who happened to be white also felt that way. Their ignorance about the color of skin was displayed when one character queried Zachary about how he got his skin color. She wondered if he was burned. She wondered if he was in pain. It seems absurd, but I think that the author must have researched this attitude and is using that reality to enhance his fictional tale about England during WWII, a war that was carried on for several years without the help of America, whose eventual entry signaled a more positive end to the combat. The upper classes were shielded from the actual fog of war by the frivolity of their own lives as they knitted socks for the soldiers but still managed to carry on with their social lives and causes, parties and balls.

During that time in England, white children were being given every advantage over black children, regarding education, safety, food and shelter. Black children were looked down upon, called names and abused by those who thought they were superior to them. The less fortunate were expected to suffer the dangers of the war while those more fortunate were eagerly evacuated. The rescue of white children went smoothly while those deficient or racially unacceptable were rejected and sent back home. Helping blacks was frowned upon by the upper classes and those that did suffered from the tongue lashings and gossip of their peers. Sanctioned injustice was the norm.

Women, at that time, were not independent and were expected to behave properly, not to fraternize with people of color, not to go to places where they congregated and surely not to teach them since it was believed they could not learn. At the same time, the people of color did not want to draw attention to themselves because they did not want to upset the apple cart which allowed them to live in peace in London. It was a fragile situation requiring the walking of a tightrope by all.

The atrocities of war were painted sharply; some images were of cruelties and a kind of violence that I had never dreamed of or heard of before. The brutality of the citizens toward their captured enemy has not often been revealed, rather the enemy’s cruelty has been stressed above all else. Still while the anger of the citizenry may have been justified in such hostile times, their barbaric behavior was not. The author clearly shows the force of a mob mentality out of control. He also highlighted the fact that doing the right thing does not always bring about the right result. When the soldier, Alistair, tried to stop a mob from torturing an injured enemy pilot, he himself was seriously wounded by that same pilot while he was trying to protect and help him.

I loved the part of the book that featured the bantering back and forth in letters and/or dialogue between the characters. The humor lightened the heavy mood of the scenes of war and deprivation in which those in active and inactive combat were equally injured. Some were soon dying and some were starving in London. They were starving and dying on Malta. They were sitting ducks there, suffering their injuries, death, privation and exhaustion without outside help. As the conditions in London worsened and the bombings increased, the experiences of both Londoners and the soldiers on the battlefield were sharply defined by the author. The hazards of war, with the haphazardness of personal survival, had to be faced by each of them in one capacity or another everyday. The disillusionment about the purpose and the end results of the war was also clearly explored and exposed.

I think it was obvious how the book would end from the beginning, partly because of our knowledge of history, but also because of the way the story was rolled out. It was often enhanced with a touch of humor and the information provided was interesting. The romance lightened the subject matter by exposing choices that all readers could identify with and understand. The war united people of different classes and different races, but would it last when the war ended? Would the romances begun survive afterwards in the light of the new day?

The book truly illustrates the effect of war on those fighting it and those observing it, those drawn to nationalism engaging in the fight directly and those drawn to defending their country in more intellectual pursuits. Each of the characters risked their lives in a different way; each faced danger and tried to rise to the occasion when necessary to preserve and protect those less fortunate and those defending them from their enemies.  This is a book worth reading for its war perspective and its insight into the way people viewed it and treated each other during that time. It might make the reader wonder if society has changed all that much since then.

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