Chris Cleave’s latest acclaimed work is a sumptuous and visceral literary love story that encompasses the brutal Siege of Malta, war-torn London and a less-than-salubrious chapter in Britain’s war history, writes Anna Roins.
New York Times best-selling author, Chris Cleave, was inspired by his grandfather, Captain David Hill, when he wrote Everyone Brave Is Forgiven (2016). Captain Hill, a survivor of the Siege of Malta, met up with his fiancé, Mary (Cleave’s grandmother) only nine times before they were separated by the Second World War. For three and a half years, they exchanged hundreds of letters and telegrams, written on anything from fancy stationery, to scrap paper and even the back of a theatre programme.
“I wanted to find a way to show this universal bravery coming into play, and I realised I could do it by using characters from my family – people I love.”
Reading passages of Cleave’s prose is like hearing a crystal bell. Highly articulate and instinctive, his sumptuous writing wraps itself around top-octave plots which may require a moment of pause. Or in my case, to grab a tissue. The repartee between the characters glitters with sparse English humour and things left unsaid. Cleave likes to win space for his protagonists to talk in a way that advances their character rather than the plot. It makes what happens to them even more compelling.
The novel opens in September 1939 with Mary North, the privileged daughter of an English MP who abandons finishing school in Switzerland to offer her services for the war effort. When she reaches London, to her disappointment, she is assigned to a teaching position across the city rather than some daring and adventurous post for which she was hoping. Here she meets a little boy called Zachary that changes her life forever.
Soon Mary’s path crosses with Tom’s, a thoughtful and gentle man who has elected not to go to war but administer to “twenty mothballed schools” instead. A romance blooms between them until one day, on a double date with her peppery best friend, Hilda, Mary meets Tom’s dashing flatmate-in-uniform, Alistair.
This dazzling story follows the lives of the four friends until the middle of 1942, as it moves from the harrowing Siege of Malta, where men faced starvation and daily attacks, to war-torn London, where Mary battles to teach underprivileged children, with just as much valour.
Chris Cleave is the author of Incendiary (2005), published in twenty countries and adapted as a feature film starring Ewan McGregor. His second novel, Little Bee: A Novel (2008) (also known as The Other Hand) for which he was short-listed for a Costa Award, has found phenomenal success world-wide.
Courage, loyalty and love are re-defined in Cleave’s latest novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, a literary epic love story with a sequel on the way, Everything Sad is Forgotten, due to be published next year.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Simon & Schuster) is available at Public.
Chris Cleave was recently interviewed by Anna Roins on Authorlink. You can read her interview HERE
Insider Weekly, August 30, 2017.