Monday 21 September 2015

Reviewed: How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

How To Be Brave was published in paperback by Orenda Books on September 17, 2015.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

For me, I know when I’m reading a really good book because I find myself trying to take in every little detail. From being fully immersed in the story to enjoying every chapter title and small quote that followed, Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave was one of those books. So many times I kept checking how many pages were left, not because I was in a rush for the story to end, more because I really didn’t want to reach the end – I was willing this book to be longer and longer because I didn’t feel I’d ever be ready to let the characters go. Exquisitely written with storytelling of pure beauty, this debut novel is like nothing I’ve read before. Highly engaging and compelling, Louise’s writing is sharp and astute, wise to the emotions built through a mother-daughter relationship. How To Be Brave is a truly unforgettable novel.

Louise had me reading with a lump in my throat right from the first chapter. Rose, Natalie’s nine year old daughter, has been overwhelmingly thirsty for a while. Natalie doesn’t think too much into it – instead, heading more to the opinion that her daughter is being awkward and maybe a little more stroppy than usual. A few more pages into this story and Rose collapses – and they collectively discover the diagnosis that will change their lives forever. It was made so easy for me to connect with this story, emotionally, from the beginning. Even though I was yet to make my mind up on how I felt about Natalie and Rose, the fear and concern Natalie had for her daughter’s health tugged at the heartstrings and I couldn’t blame her for that. Rose, at such a young age, is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. As horrible as that is, it’s treatable, except Rose refuses all the tests and injections. She won’t accept them and she threatens her own life as she does so. It’s Natalie’s responsibility to care for her daughter and so it’s down to her to give Rose all she’s got, to encourage her to find that strength in character to fight her diabetes and save her own life. There was a real heart-breaking core to this novel.

The second aspect to this book, the second narrative, was far more powerful and wonderful than I had expected, even after knowing from the end of the first chapter that this was a novel I was going to love. Natalie and Rose both find themselves dreaming about and seeing the same man – and we soon get to discover the story of Colin, Natalie’s grandfather, as diary entries account for the fifty days he spent on a lifeboat, lost at sea. If Rose’s story had me reading with a lump in my throat then Colin’s story of survival also had me reading in a similar way which made How To Be Brave an extremely emotionally driven story, whilst ultimately being fulfilling and uplifting too. Colin’s strength and courage is hauntingly resonant of the strength and courage the reader wills Rose to find and the narratives from the past and present couldn’t have been interwoven any better, nor told any more beautifully and compellingly.

My favourite aspect to this novel was the relationship and bond between Natalie and Rose. They don’t have the easiest of relationships and things between them are often uncomfortable and difficult, but when Rose struggles to cope with her diabetes, Natalie poignantly fits her role as mother perfectly, knowing it’s up to her to bring Rose round and help her on her way to finding the strength and bravery needed. The narrative set in the past, that of Colin’s story, is mesmerising and I was drawn in instantly. As Natalie delivers parts of his diary to Rose, you can feel the power and bravery in his every word and I found myself wishing for Rose to catch on to this and be inspired by her great grandfather because his story of survival could surely inspire even those who have never been closer to giving up. With Natalie’s husband away, serving in Afghanistan, the relationship between Natalie and Rose really is the highlight and strength of this novel and I think there are many aspects and feelings there, between them, which are easy to identify with and relate to. Neither mum nor daughter are without flaw and that’s what makes their bond all the more interesting to read about. They were similar in ways, different in others, but seeing their characters grow and develop throughout made for beautiful reading. I liked seeing them gain more respect and devotion to each other’s needs and feelings and how although it was Rose with the diabetes, they were both helping each other equally.

How To Be Brave is without a doubt, one of my favourite reads of the year. All the superlatives in the world won’t do it justice but with or without them, this novel is well worth reading, and keeping, for it is memorable, beautiful and poignantly written. Stunning. The kind of book that makes you feel stronger, just for reading it. I loved Louise’s writing. She seemed to inject beauty into every sentence, without it ever feeling too wordy or forced. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. Everything about the way Louise told the novel felt genuine and enriching and whilst the two narratives told in How To Be Brave are memorable, and will stay with me for a long time, Louise’s style of writing won’t be lost on me either as her writing feels like something I could never tire of.

An extraordinary debut - emotionally driven, finely written and highly compelling

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