Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

 

“War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.”

 

That’s a wonderful first line of a book and helps the book set out it’s stall simply in one sentence, so that it can get on with the story.

 

Written by Chris Cleave, the genius behind Gold – a book about Olympic cycling that somehow made me cry – this is the kind of book that you’ll want a pen with you as you read so you can underline all the great lines.

 

Mary is part of the upper class of London, and the dialogue and inner monologue of the book is written in a clipped form that instantly makes you feel part of Mary’s world.

 

Gradually as the realities of war start to kick in Mary begins to mature, and while she never quite loses her ideological edge, she does become more aware of her place in the world.

 

As a rule, I don’t like books set during the war. It’s part of my whole historical fiction is just an excuse for the author to show off how much they’ve been able to research, and that often takes me out of the narrative.

 

(And yes, I appreciate the irony considering the fact that at least one of the chapters in my novel is set during an air raid in the Second World War)

 

But I am always willing to forgive authors that I like and give them a go, and boy am I glad that I did with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

 

While it didn’t have the same dramatic and emotional ending that Gold did, it is beautifully written all the way through with a range of characters that you care about, and a sense of real jeopardy.

 

It may be unfair to compare Everyone Brave is Forgiven to Gold, they are after all very different stories and comparing them is a bit like comparing strawberry ice cream with garlic bread. They both have wonderful qualities, both are completely different and you want them to be different. Garlic ice cream, anyone? A slice of strawberry bread?

 

But, what stands out in Gold all these years later is the story, I can’t honestly say I l look back on it and remember the writing – though surely it was great. If in five years time you ask me my thoughts on Everyone Brave is Forgiven I’ll tell you about the writing.

 

Very early on I captured a picture of a line of the text because I thought it was a lovely line, however looking back at it now, it ties in with what I was saying earlier on about the development of Mary as a character.

 

Mary is sent to work in a school when she signs up at the War Office, and when asked by the headmistress why she did sign up, Mary replies:

 

“I hoped it might be less exhausting than the constant rest.”

 

I do think that if the same question was asked of Mary the last time we meet her, she might have a very different answer.

 

Not that it’s all about Mary of course, there are several other characters, equally well drawn, equally compelling and Cleave weaves through their viewpoints in such a way that you can never be too sure who will survive and who won’t.

 

Even to the last chapter, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. That, coupled with the lasting image of two characters walking along the side of the Thames, both battered by the war, together, but still forced apart at the same time makes for a very memorable book indeed.

 

Scoring 4.4 out of 5, it climbs to the top of my 2016 leaderboard, and I suspect will stay there for some time

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is released in Hardback in April 2016

 

 

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

The Mountain Can Wait.

 

In fact, it’s had to wait, because I’ve been a little busy and it’s been some time between finishing the book and writing this review, so in the words of Miranda, bear with.

 

The mountain in question is in Canada, which was a lovely start, following 2015’s A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which was also set in Canada, although more than a hundred years previously.

 

It felt at the beginning that I was returning to a previous home, which is a credit to the writing (both Leipciger’s and Gale’s) – because either they’ve both managed to get Canada spot on, or they’ve both made up the same version.

 

Tom Berry is responsible for replanting trees on the mountain, reporting into a large corporation that is cutting them down elsewhere. He has raised his children alone, after his wife abandoned them when the children were young.

 

One day, on the cusp of adulthood, Tom’s son Curtis is driving home from a party when he hits a girl with his truck. A split second decision, one moment of poor judgement leads to Curtis speeding away from the scene of the crime.

 

Books like this make me stop and think about the name of the book. Why is it called that? What does the mountain represent? What is it waiting for?

 

The mountain in this book is the mountain on which Tom works. The phrase is used to describe Tom’s younger self, shrugging away his family life, wanting to get back to work, to get back to the mountain.

 

“He hadn’t learned yet that the mountain could wait.”

 

The mountain which literally lurks in the background of the entire novel will always be there. Tom can go away, do what he needs to do for his family, and then return to the mountain waiting for him.

 

But the mountain is more than that. It is the inevitability of inescapable events. The moment Curtis drove away from that girl on the mountain road, it was waiting to catch up with him. It is not something that he can escape from.

 

Both Tom and Curtis must come to terms with what has happened, and as they do we get to witness sweeping vistas of Canada that are so beautifully written, you almost wish the book will never end.

 

The scene where Tom lies in a canoe and floats out on a lake is a particular highlight, along with all the scenes involving Bobbie on the remote island where Curtis’s mother grew up.

 

Bobbie is easily the best character in this book – if this were a film, she’d be on screen for all of ten minutes, would be played by Meryl Streep and win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – and I wish we had more of her.

 

I’d also have loved for more exploration of the relationship between Tom and Curtis and how the absence of Curtis’ mother dominated their lives together but what we do have is a beautifully vivid setting and a very melancholic ending.

 

I’ve given The Mountain Can Wait 3.3 out of 5.

 

Next week, I’ll be reviewing Everyone Brave is Forgotten by Chris Cleave