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January book club - Everyone Brave is Forgiven

(83 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 21-Dec-16 14:49:27

Looking ahead slightly (but hopefully copies of the above winging their way to our winners shortly)...

Our January book club choice is Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (more details here). If you got a free copy please make sure you leave your comments and questions on this thread by the end of January. If you didn't win a copy this time but are reading it anyway, do feel free to join the discussion and add any questions for Chris.

Swanny Fri 17-Feb-17 12:08:58

Thank you for your responses and I shall be looking out for the sequel with interest. Best wishes.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:30:16


Thank you, Chris Cleave, for an amazing read!
I found it slow to begin with, but was soon fully engaged with the characters. I particularly admired Mary, who had a strength of character in spite of her upbringing and the social environment she grew up in.
Having been a teacher myself, I appreciated her empathy for her pupils.
I enjoyed the attention to detail, such as reference to use of Marion Richardson handwriting script at that time.
It was a learning curve, to read about the attitudes towards the vulnerable and the black peoples.
Clever use of wit and humour enabled the reader to stay with the author and cope with the devastating effects of war on individuals.
The siege of Malta and the London Blitz were dealt with great skill.
That second part of the book really is amazing - evocative, emotional and devastating on so many levels.
Thank you, Mr Cleave.
I understand that you've been inspired by your grandparents and aspects of the book are based on their experiences - but you did you have to carry out additional research, and how did you go about it?
I look forward to this dialogue...

And yes, I did a lot of research beyond my grandparents’ letters. I spent a long time on Malta, researching locations and interviewing people. I did months of archive work. I talked with as many living witnesses as I could. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Imperial War Museum were incredibly helpful. If you’re ever at a loose end on a rainy day, I can warmly recommend the IWM’s huge online audio, video and photo archive at - I think it’s the best thing on the whole internet.

Thank you for your kind words, by the way! I’m moved by the kindness shown in this and all of the questions here. Thanks to everyone who read the book – I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:29:39


One thing jarred - but the Chris is too young to remember. Yes, Alastair would have used aerogrammes, but since one paid for them before using them, he wouldn't have screwed them up at each attempt to write to Mary. It would have cost too much.

How did Chris find out about the poor black [and white, probably] children who slipped through every net [not that it seemed the authorities tried very hard to find them]?

I’d really like to recommend a book called ‘Mother Country’ by the historian Stephen Bourne. In this and much of the rest of his work he explores the little-known history of Britain’s black community. This was my way in to further archival research into the experiences of black evacuees and those who remained in – or returned to – the city.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:29:13


A question for Chris:
Have you been called upon to justify your characters using racist language in the book? I was discussing this with someone who thought that it was inappropriate use of such language, whereas I believe that it was a necessary and stark reminder of how people used to think. I think the racist vocabulary gives the book some verisimilitude.
(Always wanted to use that word - never had an opportunity before that I can remember! grin)

Verisimilitude is a good words and thank you for using it in this context. Yes, I have – quite rightly – been asked to justify the novel’s use of the N-word. I’ve written about this at length here: but the edited version is as follows:
There are two reasons the novel uses racist vocabulary and they are both straightforward. The first is the duty to historical accuracy. Having discovered in my research for Everyone Brave is Forgiven that white people in the 1930s and 1940s used words like “nigger” casually and with abandon, it would have been a racially loaded act on my part to exonerate them by whitewashing their words. Rather, I prefer to use the language of the period with precision, since that is the best way to understand the mind set of the time. The novel’s use of the word “nigger” is reportage, not racism.
The second reason for using historically accurate vocabulary flows from the fact that any historical novel is really a commentary on the time in which the writer is living. I don’t believe that racism crawled away and died sometime between the 1940s and the present day. Rather, I think it is still a deep and divisive evil that continues to harm individual lives and shape national politics. By being upfront about the ubiquity of racism, and not seeking to soften its language or its acts, I hope to show its historic weight and its continuing influence on the way we live now. I write about racism and xenophobia without pulling any punches, because I think we need to talk about it now, and with urgency.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:28:18


Having taken a bit of time to get into the story I am now hooked. There have been some shocks and some surprises.
The treatment of the children remaining in the city was dreadful. I would like to ask Chris how he researched the conditions that those children found themselves in.

Another great question – thanks. I had some fantastic original sources regarding the state of London’s non-evacuated children. The best was a long report by the Fabian Society, written in 1941, and describing the successes and failures of the evacuation. It begins by saying that thousands of children were running wild in a London where all provision for them had been withdrawn. It lists “attendance officers, special officers, school nurses, clinic nurses, teachers, organisers, care committee workers” as the vital carers who were gone. “The whole educational system in the country of London suddenly disintegrated”, it says. And then it goes downhill from there. Needless to say, it was the poor and disadvantaged who were worst affected by the withdrawal of support services.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:27:38


I found this book a compulsive read and very moving. It followed the lives of two men; Alistair and Tom; and two women, Mary and Hilda, through the second World War. They come from different social backgrounds and have different attitudes to the war. Tom is a pacifist; Alistair joins the fight, first in France then in Malta. Mary is naïve and innocent and thinks the war will be fun and an opportunity to escape from her upper class home. She begins with teaching, and later becomes an ambulance driver. Death and destruction gradually encourage her to grow up. Her friend, Hilda is somewhat in Mary’s shadow, but is the stronger of the two.

I liked the descriptive prose and the humour, which is very witty and permeates through the book rather than being attributed to one person. There is an underling feeling that war is a terrible waste, not only for those who died but those left alive with their slow emotional detachment which is like a kind of slow death – liked sliced bread, a slice at a time. It comes as a shock every time a character you have got to know is killed. There is suspense too, when you are not sure whether a character will survive. You feel you can’t take a happy ending for granted.

A question Chris, did researching and writing the book help you to understand the past of your family, and do you feel you have helped to keep their memories alive?

Thank you. Actually I found that it helped to keep me alive. I’d never really thought of myself as someone who had deep roots, someone who came from somewhere. I’d always felt like a ghost, with no strong connections. Researching my grandparents changed that. It gave me a sense of where I’m from. It also gave me even more respect for my parents. So, rather than keeping my grandparents’ memories alive, I found that their memories were stronger than mine. I keep coming back to the image of myself, before I wrote this book, as a ghost searching for its missing heart.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:27:09


This was my first book club read.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Alastair. The reparte both in his letters and with the other characters in the book were amusing and interesting. I wondered if Mr. cleave has a collie sitting by him as he wrote to try out these conversations.

The stuffing of the cat with newspaper was weird but funny weird. What happened to the cat in the end? I could taste the jam when Simomson finally sucumbed.

The semi drowning of Mary with the water being used to put out fires was scary and not something I would have thought of. Well written.

I always like being introduced to new/different authors and would like to thank Mr. Cleave for permitting his book to be recorded in spoken work for those of us who are unable to read a print copy. It was beautifully read. I was actually holding my breath over the drowning part and feeling sun beaten and hungry on Malta.

The February book is not available to me but I shall look forward to reading the comments of everyone else.

Delighted you enjoyed Alistair’s company as much as I did! I had fun writing the dialogue, and I will admit to doing the voices out loud to myself. I did have props: I put on a tie, and I found it useful to wave a pipe around for emphasis. Good times. Ah, and a good question. What did happen to the cat? That’s a loose end, I think. I remember Mary boxing up Caesar along with the rest of Tom’s things. So I should think he was sent to Tom’s parents. Goodness knows what his poor grieving parents would have done with a badly-stuffed cat. You could hardly display it, and you probably couldn’t bring yourself to throw it away either. It’s probably still in the box, in some attic in Surrey or Sussex. Future archaeologists will insist that it was used for magical or shamanistic purposes.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:26:38


I loved this book too Cari and thought that the characters were so well drawn and very believable. I really cared what happened to them.

The banter between Tom and Mary and Alistair and Simenson was both funny and clever and they all came across as being really good company - had circumstances been different.

The flavour of the times and the difficulties in wartime were well described and I learnt a lot about what Malta had suffered. I knew it was the VC island but had no idea how bad it had been.

I would like to ask Chris Cleve if he has any thought of writing a sequel? The characters are too vibrant to be allowed only the one book!

This is a kind thing to say – thank you. And yes, I do have a sequel planned. It’s called Everything Sad is Forgotten, and it takes the austere post-war years from 1948 to the early 1950s. Hilda became a favourite of mine, and she takes centre stage in the sequel. Mary plays second fiddle to her, for a change. I long to write this book, but I’m not going to rush into it, as it needs an enormous amount of research to do it justice. Everyone Brave took four years to research, and this new one will be at least that. In the meantime I’m working on several projects that will publish sooner.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:25:16


I'm glad I waited a few days before reading the final chapters of the book, it helped me appreciate the changes in the characters during the time span of events.

I felt the main characters were depicted so well that I instantly knew them. The way they kept the stiff upper lip that had been cultivated since nursery days and bandied humour about to cover their deep insecurities, grief and inadequacies, yet were able to express compassion, was beautifully handled.

I hadn't previously thought about evacuation or otherwise of children who needed extra help at that time and felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. I admired the resilience of young Zachary and hoped he found a happy future.

I noticed a subtle change in the prose leading up to a calamity. Whether this was intentional or not I don't know but it did make me wonder if authors are affected by the planned demise of a character after they've put the meat on the plot outline.

Overall this was an enjoyable read with interesting characters and an unusual setting. A bit too wordy for me at times but the plot made me think, and I like that in a book.

This is an insightful question. I do think authors are moved by the deaths of their characters, especially if it was never planned that they would die. When I began Everyone Brave I didn’t know who would make it through to the last page. I don’t over-plan my books, I just try to build characters that are sufficiently complex and engaging to carry the novel themselves. You spend a lot of time thinking yourself into their points-of-view. Sometimes the extra perspective you gain in that way becomes a valued aspect of your own character, especially if you’re writing someone quite different from yourself: a different gender, for example, or a different age. And therefore, when that character dies, it’s not just a figure of speech to say that a little bit of you dies with them. So yes, I get emotional when a character has to go. I try not to let it show in my writing, but I’m not surprised if a sensitive reader can detect a subtle shift.

ChrisCleaveAuthor Tue 14-Feb-17 11:23:04


Well, what to say about this book..
I have never read any of the author's books before (Sorry Chris !) I don't know why that is.However it made me be able to read with a completely open mind, not having any previous book to compare it with.
At first I found the brittle cut glass accents of Mary and Hilda and then Tom quite irritating and thought they would get on my nerves, but in fact, they were interweaved with such self deprecating humour that I grew to like not only the'Sound' of their voices, but the owners of the voices too.

I liked the dark humour particularly displayed in times of extreme hardship by Alistair and Simenson, the banter between them in times of inexplicable misery had as sparkle all of it's own and it is a credit to the author to be able to do this without it seeming crass.
I struggled a bit with the racism aspects, but I guess that is how it was then and would cause a stir but liked that Mary did as she wanted, defying convention.
Without wanting to giveaway too much of the story, as I'm aware other Gransnetters may not have finished it yet, I'm glad it ended as it did with an amount of uncertainty.I would like to ask Chris if he always had this ending in mind or if the story led him there ? I think it was more satisfying left as it was as life does not fit into neat little boxes where everyone lives happily ever after, I think the book would have lost something if it was such a tidy ending.
I know Chris, that you based it on real events and experiences and I think you did a good service to the memory of the people who served on Malta and the people who tried to be business as usual in England.
I really did enjoy it and think it would make a good film !
Thanks Chris for an intricate read .

Great question. I tried the ending many different ways before I worked out the one I was happy with. The first attempts were always too neat or too moralistic. Disconnecting fate from morality is, I think, the challenge for a grown-up book about war. Finally, I came to the ending in a spirit of realism. By that stage I had done a lot of research about demobilisation, and about how couples picked up the relationships that had been interrupted for years. It often was just really ambiguous and complicated, because we tend to idealise an absent lover and build them up into more than they are: we are all more habitual storytellers than we realise.

Roxannediane Sat 04-Feb-17 15:07:13

How nice to have read a book with such amazing vocabulary and interesting characters. Some of my recent reads have been so inane, lacking colour in character and fabric ( I think I blame the kindle) and with unimaginative storylines.
This was totally the opposite, keeping me interested from the first chapter. I will certainly read more from Chris Cleave, nice to have found a new author with a convincing yet changing storyline.
Not what I would call a 'beach read', more of a ' curl up in a chair for the afternoon with an open fire and a pot of coffee' type book. I didn't want to stop reading once I started, and the rich vocabulary kept my imagination on track, feeling as if you were actually the re with the characters.
Would definitely recommend.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 01-Feb-17 15:01:56

Sending the questions over to Chris and will post the answers as soon as we can

Dadima123 Tue 31-Jan-17 22:10:04

Thank you, Chris Cleave, for an amazing read!
I found it slow to begin with, but was soon fully engaged with the characters. I particularly admired Mary, who had a strength of character in spite of her upbringing and the social environment she grew up in.
Having been a teacher myself, I appreciated her empathy for her pupils.
I enjoyed the attention to detail, such as reference to use of Marion Richardson handwriting script at that time.
It was a learning curve, to read about the attitudes towards the vulnerable and the black peoples.
Clever use of wit and humour enabled the reader to stay with the author and cope with the devastating effects of war on individuals.
The siege of Malta and the London Blitz were dealt with great skill.
That second part of the book really is amazing - evocative, emotional and devastating on so many levels.
Thank you, Mr Cleave.
I understand that you've been inspired by your grandparents and aspects of the book are based on their experiences - but you did you have to carry out additional research, and how did you go about it?
I look forward to this dialogue...

merlotgran Tue 31-Jan-17 10:48:50

I enjoyed this book although I found it took a while to feel comfortable with Chris Cleave's style of writing.

The abandonment of disabled and non-white children during the evacuation was an eye opener as we've been more used to heartwarming tales like 'Carrie's War' and 'Goodnight Mr. Tom.'

When I was a child I spent two years living in Malta during the early fifties so was made well aware of the siege which was recent history. My father was in the RAF serving in Gibraltar during that time so was fortunate to be spared that particular horror.

An enjoyable if not exactly cheering read. Thank you.

sweetpea Tue 31-Jan-17 05:31:33

Regrettably, I have found this hard going. I have, therefore, put it to one side to revisit at a later date, sorry Chris. Doesn't help, I think, that I am not in the best frame of mind (daughters!).

However, thank you for the book Gransnet.

otherwiseknownasGrandma Mon 30-Jan-17 10:28:34

The author's style is reminiscent of Sebastian Faulkes and Ian McEwan, both favourite authors of mine. I was aware of racism prevalent in the UK during war time and the horrific siege in Malta but the book really brought them alive for me. I loved the acerbic wit and dry humour displayed by all the characters, quintessentially British even in the darkest of times.

Thank you for my copy of this book. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of his work.

bets1e Sat 28-Jan-17 21:02:45

I had never read a book by Chris Cleave before and I wasn't disappointed. It drew me in and I was hooked by the characters and how their lives unfolded during the war. It was a compelling, powerful read which I thoroughly enjoyed. I highly recommend this book which is the best I've read in a long time. I shall make sure I read some more by this author.

tigger Sat 28-Jan-17 12:29:50

Not a happy read, so much tragedy but I suppose that was the way it was. I was surprised to learn about the extent of the racism, also the seige of Malta was a real eye opener even though I vaguely knew about it. Can't say it was an enjoyable read but very well written and kept me wanting to know more.

boo2410 Fri 27-Jan-17 23:57:19

Never read a book by Chris Cleve but will definitely look out for more. I love stories set in wartime England and this one didn't disappoint. Loved all the characters, the book really pulled me into it and I was always wondering what was going to happen next, always the sign of a good book. There is hope, dread and humour from the characters within. An excellent read. Thank you for my copy.

mumofmadboys Fri 27-Jan-17 15:05:29

I have really enjoyed this novel. I must admit I don't really like the title! I'm not sure I would have picked it out in a bookshop. However the characters come to life and the story says a lot about life at that time including the racism and bullying. I too loved the line,' She left finishing school unfinished'! Thank you Gransnet for sending me the book and thanks to Chris for writing it. Are your other books historical novels as well or are some set in the present day?

ginnie Fri 27-Jan-17 14:18:22

Chris Cleave is a very skilful writer. I found this book totally absorbing. It's funny, emotional and full of powerful metaphors. It shows the shocking reality of war and it's effects on its characters, both physically and psychologically. I can't wait to read his other novels!

nannygreencar Fri 27-Jan-17 08:27:29

Enjoyable and evocative of the period. A down to earth account of a period in war when people had to stand up and be counted. Humour and tragedy in equal measures. It examines the war's effects on complex family and personal relationships.

Purpledaffodil Thu 26-Jan-17 20:48:03

I found this book compelling reading. It was beautifully written and managed to shock me and yet make me laugh out loud. I do agree with others that it would make an excellent film. I could visualise parts very clearly; the troop carrying lorry approaching the unexploded bomb for example.
My parents met and married in WW11 and in a strange way, I felt closer to them and their life at this time.
A final point, the casual rascism was horrific, but I'm sure was prevalent at the time. The use of the "N word" shocked me, but then I remembered this being a colour description for brown shoe polish in the 1950s and wasn't it the name of a black dog in the film The Dam Busters? Happily now bowdlerised when the film is shown on TV.
All in all a great read and I shall look for the other books by this author.

grandmac Thu 26-Jan-17 16:14:48

I have read another book by Chris Cleave (The Other Hand) which I enjoyed but found rather long. This one is the same, I really appreciate the back story of his family and their letters, especially as my own father was in Malta for a time during the war. All the main characters are well painted and likeable. And it is a really good story. It would make a great film. But it is very "wordy". This is only my opinion and I know many, many people will enjoy that aspect of what is a good read.

JAS Thu 26-Jan-17 07:51:28

A fascinating book and will recommend it to my book club.
The humour was correct as anyone working in the services will agree with - the fire service, police and doctors all have this 'black' humour to enable them to cope with what is going on every day.
The letters brought back memories of how it used to be and I still have the bundle of letters from my husband while we were courting and he still has mine. I must reread them one day (or perhaps I shouldn't).
I enjoyed this book although a little too long for me and the book print a little too small but now I want to read the author's previous books to see how they compare in style.
Well done gransnet for selecting a really good read.