I'm crunched for time this morning, but I learned from the last purloined review that if I don't hurry and put fingers to keyboard and knock out a review it'll just hang over me like an albatross. Today's review, then, will be more concise than usual, but since I make the rules around here that's just the way it's going to be. There's not really a point to these reviews: they are, after all, just one old broad's opinion, but they serve as a good way for me to remember what I've read. You're just along for the ride, but I love you for it.
This was one of three novels that I asked my son to buy for me when he was out in Portland a few weeks back. I haven't BOUGHT a book since Capitol Book closed, you see. I'd been enjoying reading the stash I bought in a frenzy in the waning days, and checking books out of the library, but I knew there were a handful that I just wanted to own, and Everyone Brave is Forgiven was one of the three, because Chris Cleave's magnificent Little Bee is on my all-time-best-books-ever list. I was willing to take the risk with this purchase based solely on that.
Cleave's book is set in London in the early days of WWII, and tells the story of four fetching young adults being pressed into varying forms of service to their country. Each of them -- Mary, Hilda, Tom, and Alastair -- find their lives uprooted and inexorably changed. Cleave furrows no new rows in that, of course; it's standard fare for any novel set in wartime. Even the ways in which they find and lose and find themselves again (for the most part) aren't particularly fresh.
What I admire so about Cleave's writing is his vibrant dialog, the way in which you find yourself visualizing the slightest change in facial expressions of his characters in much the same way as you can visualize the set of your best friend's face when speaking to her over the telephone.
There was much in this novel that jolted me, primarily Cleave's use of racial epithets I'm accustomed to reading in books set in the American South during this period, but which I suppose I didn't realize were also used in Europe. These are not incidental: an important secondary character is a young black boy in whom Mary becomes emotionally invested, and who figures prominently throughout the novel.
I was only disappointed in this novel because it didn't quite measure up to the power of Little Bee, but even so, I find I can and will recommend it highly.