I wonder if my lack of December reading progress has more to do with being busy with the holidays, my having already reached me 2018 reading goal or if it is because I have spent the last two weeks either depressed by or disappointed in my book choice. Perhaps it is a combination of the three.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven focuses on three main characters who live in England at the onset of World War II. The novel opens with society girl Mary North who volunteers to aid the war effort and gets assigned a teaching position, much to her disappointment. In an attic apartment in London we are introduced to Tom Shaw, an educator whose profession gets him exempt from service, and Tom’s roommate, Alistair Heath, an art conservator who enlists in the Army.
When all the children is London are evacuated to the countryside Mary is dismissed from the school she was initially assigned to for being unqualified and getting too close to black student named Zachary. Mary is too embarrassed to tell her mother she was let go so she begins to seek out a new posting. Tom, who is in charge of the London schools, meets Mary and is instantly taken by her but worries she is only interested in him because he can get her a new placement. After Mary is given a job teaching students who were not evacuated she goes to Zachary’s father, an American who performs in a minstrel show, and persuades him to bring his son home. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in England that covered race relations and wasn’t expecting it in a WWII novel but it was one of the most interesting parts of the story.
“But what good is it to teach a child to count, if you don’t show him that he counts for something?”
Tom is in London trying to decide if he has a shot with Mary, and then falling completely in love with Mary, while Alistair is completely miserable in the Army. Eventually Alistair is sent to Dunkirk and, fans of Christopher Nolan know, has a hellish time being evacuated from the island. Eventually Alistair is promoted to an officer because all his superiors are dead. Cheery stuff. Mary also has a best friend, Hilda, who is not given enough to do despite being a bit of comic relief in a pretty bleak novel.
“In the end I suppose we lay flowers on a grave because we cannot lay ourselves on it.”
Tom is the linchpin in the story but it is hard to explain how integral he is to the last third of the novel without spoiling a lot. Overall Cleave dose an excellent job at covering both the day to day lives of British citizens during World War II and the soldiers at the Front but I am knocking off a star for the disappointing ending.