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Sunday, August 06, 2017

"Everyone brave is forgiven" by Chris Cleave

To volunteer without being asked; to discriminate only for character, never for colour; to be truthful when the answer will cause hurt…such are the everyday braveries familiar to Mary North when war is declared on the third of September, 1939. And they are more than enough to propel her into action, service, love and tragedy in Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

To be brave, it helps very much to have brave friends watching over you. In this, Mary and Alistair Heath, separated by an ocean, are equally fortunate. For Mary, there is Hilda to jostle her into the ambulance corps:

“Why wander through your thoughts,” says Hilda, “when you could drive through them quite recklessly, with sirens? The worst that could happen is that we might help someone.”

For Alistair, requisitioned to the “unpromising rock” of Malta, there is Simonson, a fellow captain (and a character inspired by Cleave’s grandfather who served on Malta in the Second World War). Half-starved and under siege, the two keep sanity of a sort with nimble, grim-witted observations while the bombs rain down on the narrow island.

“What are you smiling about?” said Simonson.
“I had a love letter in this morning’s post.”
Simonson yawned. “I get three a week.”
“But my family is not disgustingly wealthy, so I can actually take it as proof of my looks.”
“Go to hell,” said Simonson, “and tell them I sent you.”
“I suppose you own the place.”
“Fifty-one percent, old boy. One maintains a controlling interest.”

To be forgiven is to have first made mistakes, to have disappointed those who least deserve it. By having each other to hope for, Mary and Alistair are rescued from despair in the war’s worst moments. But it is their sharp-minded friends who may know them better than they know themselves. They will keep them, if not entirely whole, at least safe and soldiering on through the long, dark in-between.