Let’s start this day and this month with one of the most beautiful novels ever written…
Title: How To Be Brave
Author: Louise Beech
Date of publication: 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Number of pages: 320
All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.
How to be brave.
I have asked myself this question a lot over the years, for a million reasons. Louise Beech hits the mark with this beautiful debut novel nourished by her personal experience and life story.
Being brave has different meanings. You might need bravery facing life every day, you might need it while signing an important piece of paper, you might hope for it when bracing yourself for a big step, or you might will it to come to you in desperate times.
I will say it now. I was dreading reading How To Be Brave. I was afraid I would not be brave enough to stomach what the novel had to tell me. Medical conditions scare me to death and my heart aches whenever I think of those who have to deal with them on a daily basis. But looking at the cover, it dawned on me that I owed it to myself to muster the courage to pick up a book that would undoubtedly make me feel all those emotions I was trying to keep at bay. On top of it, I thought it was unfair of me to turn my back on it because of fear when the purpose of this novel was to bring awareness, hope, and love. So when I was asked to read it. I took a deep breath, fully aware that Louise Beech’s writing would find its way through my veins and make me alive, for better or for worse. (I also made sure tissues were nearby, because LOUISE BEECH, people).
I could tell you there are two plots in How To Be Brave, but it would be lying. Two timelines are intertwined to echo each other with the power of waves in the ocean, soaking you through and through.
No sugar-coating. The author doesn’t need it. Right from the start, The world of Natalie and her daughter Rose is shattered. You get a happy glimpse of the ‘before’ but there is no time to get used to it as the ‘after’ catches up with the protagonists and a big fat word appears. Type 1 Diabetes. I am not a mother but my heart broke when little Rose hit the floor and then was transported to the hospital. In a very genuine, terrified, and touching way, we make this journey with Natalie, who hold on to details, whose thoughts are all over the place. I read the author’s novels in the wrong order, but I can pinpoint the exact moment I breathed out and said, ‘This woman has the key to my heart’. Louise Beech is no magician. She is a writer with such talent and heart that her words hold everything you wish you could say but can’t find how to tell. I feel the ink of this fiction runs through my blood, as if thanks to this book, I now know how to convey more thoughts and emotions, how to feel more empathy, how to live more fiercely. I am a better person thanks to those pages.
Back to the story. Natalie and Rose are faced with a new life. We all know how hard it can be to adapt to something new, but the unfairness of Diabetes, the helplessness of a mother who wants to spare her daughter the suffering and the routine that is about to become her life, everything was so strong my eyes stung, and I felt rage. Pure hatred towards a condition I knew almost nothing about. Yet, the author’s message is not one of self-pity and rebellion. It is a journey of acceptance, of finding your way back to yourself, of discovering a new path.
For this, both Natalie and Rose can count on Colin. Separated by decades but united by blood. Thanks to him, Natalie and Rose, whose relationship feels like pebbles thrown on the surface of the sea, splashing but never reaching each other, are guided through tests and sugar-levels, mood swings and tears, to a lone boat in 1943.
I am not a fan of historical fiction. My reluctance stems from my great-grandmother’s stories of the war. I find it difficult to read about what truly happened. As an oversensitive person, those facts and people stay with me and instead of learning from them, it only hurts.
Not this time.
Louise Beech took me on a trip to the middle of the ocean, where a man fought for his life while years later, his grand-daughter gives battle to the ferocious Diabetes. I quickly eased into this story of survival, praying Colin would make it, imagining starvation, awful living … no, ‘waiting’ conditions. This was no life, this was war against death. Never had I imagined I could feel so close and so worried for a man living in 1943, so far away from my life and what I know. This is the magic of Louise Beech’s writing.
The parallel timelines are both so strong and beautifully described, skillfully balanced and dancing to the sound of the ocean. They fit together like hand in glove, allowing the reader to find a million different thoughts and ways to connect to everyone between the pages. Two ways of surviving, bottles thrown into the ocean of days in an attempt to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
I was amazed at the strength each character showed. Each chapter took me further from reality, from earth, to take me to the line where all things meet, and bravery is shown, naked and shiny.
I was going to share an important quote from the book but eventually decided against it. Discover it, savour it, and etch it in your memory. Bravery can be found in the darkest moments. Louise Beech’s debut novel is a reminder we carry a light and we mustn’t let it go out.
I would like to thank Louise for this extremely beautiful and personal fiction.
How To Be Brave is a masterpiece written with a woman’s will, a mother’s strength, and an author’s gift. A deeply moving and eye-opening fiction about simple lives changed forever, about every day heroes, about how important it is to fight and live and find … how to be brave.