Chris Cleave * Simon & Schuster * May 3, 2016 * 432 Pages
“Life took longer to reassemble than it did to blow apart, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be lovely.”
It’s 1939, and Mary is 18-years old as the Germans start making their way toward England. Her family is financially well-off and politically powerful, and Mary is expected to toe the family line: marry a respectable man of her class and color, and then support his career over biscuits and tea. But Mary is wary of turning out like her dissatisfied mother and is desperate for the real action. Against her family’s wishes, she volunteers her services moments after war is declared. And because she really hasn’t ever been touched by hardship, she is convinced wholeheartedly that everything–from Hitler’s advances to Daddy’s disapproval–will, of course, eventually right itself in the end.
And life toddles along nicely for her at first. She gets a job and likes the job. She even gets a man and likes the man. But things start going badly soon after. To put it succinctly, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is, at its core, a love story, but oh dear Lord, there will be a lot of suffering for that happy ending. Prepare yourself.
Ironically, while I ended up enjoying this book, it took me a long 50 pages to really get into it. Initially, I found myself putting the book down about every four pages because it irritated me so very much. Mary’s exhausting (borderline unrealistic) optimism coupled with author Cleave’s “Look what I can do!” verbosity was just too much. There’s a fine line between being descriptive and being a wordsmith show-off. Cleave can paint a pretty word picture, but sometimes it distracts from the real story. There were moments when I really wanted Cleave to descend from his Word Throne and just talk to me like a commoner already. Ugh.
But after that 50-page mark, something changed for me. It might have been that I grew accustomed to Cleave’s writing style, or maybe it was that Mary and Alistair finally meet and experience the CONNECTION they aren’t supposed to, but, suddenly things start getting good. The story picks up and digs in. The characters come to life. They’re funny! And the back-and-forth between them is witty and truly entertaining. I found myself relating to these people finally, empathizing with and understanding them. I genuinely started to care. And the rest of the book (the next 350 pages!) are so darn good.
The beginning of the story may have been a chore to get through, but, wow, I ended up LOVING this story. The complexity, the depth, the sadness, and–dare I say?–even the writing, all combined to create a beautiful novel. I’m so glad I pushed past those first few pages, because Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is an absolute gem.