About the Book
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.
Gah. I have been putting off writing this review. Not for any ignoble reasons, more that I’m scared I can’t find the right words. I have been a fan of Louise Beech’s work since I read The Mountain in My Shoe. There is something hauntingly beautiful in the way Ms Beech creates her stories, the way in which the prose just draws you in, subtly at first, until you find that you are so caught up in the world that she has created, you simply forget you are meant to be functioning in that of your own. How To Be Brave was the one book I had not had chance to read, but after attending the launch of her latest book in October, I felt that needed to be remedied and sharpish.
Oh, how I’m glad that I did. I finished this book over just a couple of days, only the small matter of sleep, which I try to engage in on occasion, stopping me from reading any faster. Although, that said, this is not a book to be rushed, rather to be savoured, its story having far more power when you pause to think about every element with a kind of care and respect.
This is the story of Natalie and her daughter, Rose, whose lives are changed forever at Halloween when Rose collapses and is rushed into hospital. They are given a devastating diagnosis, one which is so hard to accept and understand and one which will drive a once beautiful mother daughter friendship to the brink of destruction, and poor young Rose to the point of wanting to give up – of wanting to give in to the final sleep if it means an end to the constant cycle of blood tests and injections she is forced to endure for the rest of her life. Theses are the moments of true despair, where you will feel the tears welling as you can sense Natalie’s torment and anxiety seep from the page.
Forced to try to find a common ground, Natalie tries to engage her daughter by sharing a story with her, that of Natalie’s own grandfather, Rose’s Great Grandfather, who fought against all the odds to survive being lost at sea during World War Two.Both of their dreams are haunted by a strange man, one who seemingly provides them direction, elements of their dreams becoming intertwined with the story they are reading.
As powerful as the scenes between Rose and Natalie are, the story of the sailors who are cast adrift if equally harrowing and emotive. Their struggles with near starvation, exhaustion and dehydration, the inevitable sense of loss caused as one by one they succumb to their fate, and the eternal bond of friendship which drives the lone survivors to cling to hope of rescue day after day. It is a true test of will verses fate, but one which echoes the struggles that Mother and daughter face each day. The narrative here is beautiful, so rich in vivid imagery that you can almost taste the salt water as it hits the sailor’s lips, and feel yourself sway to the undulating waves as they toss and rock the boat. Each time a crew member is lost you feel that overwhelming sense of sadness mixed with acceptance. Based on a true story, Louise Beech has captured the courage, determination and near madness that the sailors experience just perfectly.
It is through reading the story that Natalie is finally able to engage with Rose again and rebuild some of the trust that once was lost. The bond between mother and daughter is strong, but, much like the boat on which their forefather sailed, they hit many crashing waves along the way, almost capsizing on occasion, but eventually finding their way back to calmer seas. It is such a heart wrenching story, based again on the authors own experience of her daughter facing a diagnosis of type one diabetes, but so beautifully recounted that you will feel every emotion from elation to despair, find yourself transported form a place of heartache to one of joy.
This is a story of bravery. Of overcoming terrible odds. Of learning all about yourself and what strength lies within you as you fight to find a way to continue, embracing emotions and learning ‘how to be brave’. A truly beautiful, emotional and unforgettable story. I’m only sorry I didn’t read it sooner.
And I think it may just have earned itself one of these …
If you would like a copy of How To Be Brave to see just how stunning a read it is, then you can find it at the following links:
About the Author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Her third book, Maria in the Moon, was widely reviewed and critically acclaimed. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.