4th Estate February 2019
December, 1940. As German bombs fall on Southampton, the city’s residents flee to the surrounding villages. In Upton village, amid the chaos, newly-married Ellen Parr finds a girl sleeping, unclaimed at the back of an empty bus. Little Pamela, it seems, is entirely alone.
Ellen has always believed she does not want children, but when she takes Pamela into her home the child cracks open the past Ellen thought she had escaped and the future she and her husband Selwyn had dreamed for themselves. As the war rages on, love grows where it was least expected, surprising them all. But with the end of the fighting comes the realization that Pamela was never theirs to keep.
A story of courage and kindness, hardship and friendship, We Must Be Brave explores the fierce love we feel for our children and the astonishing power of that love to endure.
The recently published We Must Be Brave had been on my radar a little while as I am a big fan of historical fiction set in the Second World War. This book begins in 1940 when Ellen finds Pamela on the a bus load of evacuees, fleeing the bombs dropping on Southampton and in need of temporary refuge. The book is told from Ellen’s perspective throughout and spans her life time, from childhood to old age, with her relationship with Pamela the central theme. While the author captures the ‘keep calm and carry on’ mentality of the British home front this book is very much about the relationships formed and the challenges of the time, with the war providing the backdrop to the story.
The book started slowly for me and wasn’t what I expected but with a splendid cast of endearing characters and some truly beautiful relationships this slow burner of a novel was a wonderful read that leaves the reader warmed by its themes of enduring love and friendship despite incredibly challenging times.
The character of Ellen was lovely and I defy anyone not to fall slightly in love with this warm and kind soul. As I mentioned previously this book is her story, her life with her friends in the village community of Upton as the supporting cast. The story is not told chronologically, which I enjoyed as gaps were filled as we visited Ellen’s past. The latter part of the book was Ellen’s older years, this was the saddest part for me as the loss associated with old age was particularly poignant as the characters were so rich and well formed.
This is a book I will definitely be recommending, it is one that is not fully appreciated until its final pages but a truly delightful piece of historical fiction.
About the Author
Francis Liardet is a child of the children of the Second World War. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and studied Arabic at Oxford before travelling to Cairo to work as a translator. She currently lives in Somerset, England, with her husband and daughter, and runs a summer writing session called Bootcamp. She is also a support worker for the stillbirth and neonatal death charity SANDS. We Must Be Brave is her second novel.