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

 

 

Mainlander by Will Smith

No, not THAT Will Smith. This is the writer, comedian and sometimes star of The Thick of It Will Smith, and this is his first novel.

What did I expect knowing all this? Not a lot. His is one of those faces that I recognise, but would never really be able to place. Perhaps a comedic book, but not necessarily.

So, I opened Mainlander with no real hint of what was to come, except I knew it was about a man not native to Jersey, living on Jersey.

The plot, if you can accuse it of being a plot begins with our main character Colin out on a walk to escape an argument with his wife when he spots one of his pupils on a precipice. Colin climbs down and speaks to him, then gives him a lift home.

Only later, does Colin consider that the boy may have been about to commit suicide.

Colin begins to investigate when the boy disappears, but at the same time must contend with a dependent neighbour, a crumbling marriage and a career on the brink of ruin.

I spent much of the book wondering two things – why specifically was the book set on Jersey, and why specifically was it set in 1987?

In hindsight the answer to the first question is obvious, the island, in the English Channel belonging neither to England or France, but historically attached to both of them, is representative of the characters themselves. All of them standing alone in the conflict that surrounds them.

This is particularly noted when the island’s history during the Second World War is touched upon.

As for why it was set in 1987, the only answer I can seem to suggest is that it is for one of the characters – Colin’s neighbour – to still be around, but have been an adult during the war.

The ‘denouement’ to the plot also makes particular use of the geography of the island and the descriptions of it are quite vivid, making the reader feel they’ve visited the island*.

*Note: I say that without ever having been to the island. It may be that the descriptions were shit.

My point, however, is that both the timeframe and location for much of the book are distracting and add nothing specific to the plot. Take them away and the plot that you are left with is… weak.

Indeed, one of the subplots doesn’t actually cross over with the main plot at all, and could quite easily be removed from the book altogether. It’s almost like someone felt the book wasn’t quite thick enough, and needed to add some more material.

The storm that makes up the climax of the book, finally leaves all of the characters in a more interesting place and then abruptly the book ends.

I was harsh at the beginning of this review about the plot, but only because there is a wonderful beginning and middle to the story, but no ending. The characters are well drawn and intriguing, but we seemed to spend most of the book getting to know them and then just as it’s about to get interesting we’re asked to leave the party.

This could have been so much more, but as it is, it’s three hundred pages of a nice prose that says:

“No man is an island, huh? Well, actually, they kinda are.”