There had to be a really good reason for me to pick up yet another novel about WW 2 since I’m not a fan per se. Although I must say, I could list some really good ones I’ve read in the last number of years, and I imagine so could you. Since this was a book club assignment and Cleave is one of my favourite authors, I actually signed on quite willingly.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven is basically a wartime love story focusing on the blitz, the Siege of Malta, and racism against blacks in the UK at the time. He wanted to link to his grandfather who served in Malta, and his grandmother, who was an ambulance driver and school teacher. The character of Mary is inspired by Cleave’s grandmother, yet it is not her story. When war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up. She thought she would make a rather good spy, but bewilderingly ends up as a teacher for the misfit children who were not shipped to the countryside. She ends up fighting a war within a war, defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
This author has an amazing talent for fiction. His writing is beautiful, smart, insightful, and fresh. Although often dark, the novel has humour threaded throughout which, for me, has the effect of making it more poignant. I read his other books a long time ago, but I think they were better paced than this one. It did drag a little in the second half (a common problem with well researched historical fiction). In Little Bee, he brings his own experience of growing up in Cameroon to questions of identity and belonging as a third culture kid. In Gold, he tackles the competitive world of sport and how fraught winning and losing can be. I haven’t read Incendiary yet, but I will soon. There was a movie made of it with Ewan McGregor.
His grandfather died before he could read the manuscript because Cleave didn’t want to give it to him till he’d edited it completely. He learned a hard lesson with that and said, “never be afraid of showing someone you love a working draft of yourself.”