When war is declared in September 1939, Mary North bolts home to London from her finishing school, hurrying to the War Office to sign up. Tom Shaw collects blackberries from Parliament Hill to make into jam, only to give the jar to his flatmate Alistair who carries it with him to officer training and beyond.
Mary finds herself teaching a small class of misfits who are rejected when they are evacuated to the country, only to be returned to London. Tom works for the Education Authority so it is Tom who Mary badgers for a class to teach and insists he take her to dinner. Alistair is shaken by his experiences at Dunkirk but on his next leave, makes up a foursome with Tom and Mary, and her witty friend, Hilda. Only it is Mary Alistair is drawn to.
In the background, the war rages on. How can you be a normal young person starting out in life, with dreams of love and making a difference, when all around you the world has gone mad? There is a lot of well researched detail on Malta, as well as the devastation in London's East End, while the jazz keeps playing in West End nightclubs.
There are plenty of ideas on offer too - the old order seems likely to get a shake up - making this a brilliant book club read. Best of all is Cleave’s writing. His dialogue captures the banter of the conversations people have when trying to be brave; his descriptions are evocative and at times chilling. Every sentence is crafted, no word wasted. An A+ from me.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue link: Everyone Brave Is Forgiven