As World War II rages, newly married Englishwoman Ellen Parr finds a small child asleep on the backseat of an empty bus and takes her in. After three years together, the girl is taken away, leaving Ellen to wonder: In a world changed by war, is it fair to wish for an unchanged heart?
The writing is often dazzling...and this...lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether ... as well as being a deft social history, it is a love story ... This is a book suffused with parental affection: fierce, physical and almost inexpressibly tender. Liardet describes beautifully the almost animal quality of that feeling, called up by the smell of a child’s neck, the curve of a chubby arm, even an outgrown dress. She’s also good on the changes time wreaks in childhood, both on the child, who alters from one month to the next, and on the parent ... Liardet is a masterful observer of the telling minutiae of life ... It’s rare to find a novel in which everyday items are so carefully and luminously rendered, and the effect is powerful ... the 30s and 40s are brilliantly evoked, as is the present century, but the period in between feels temporally unclear. Also a little unevenly handled is the movement of the characters through time ... Nevertheless, as a testament to parental love and its relationship to the heartbreaking, healing, almost ungraspable passage of time, We Must Be Brave is a great success: richly observed, lovingly drawn and determinedly clear-eyed to the last.
Several sections weave back and forth between 1932 and 2010, a potentially risky format that, in this case, serves the story well. The novel’s only weak spot lies in its first section, which reads like a humdrum WWII story, populated by characters who are not especially intriguing. The book soars in the second section, where it delves into Ellen’s dismal childhood and the resilience that led her to a good job and, later, marriage. Rather than a war story, this is Ellen’s saga. Author Frances Liardet’s prose can only be described as gorgeous—lyrical and abounding with fresh imagery of the countryside and its inhabitants ... the often heartrending melody of We Must Be Brave lingers long after its final page.
This chronicle of an Englishwoman’s life across the middle of the 20th century radiates love and suffering through a caring but incomplete marriage, war, and aching affection for other people’s children. In scenes lit by small yet plangent detail, Liardet’s U.S. debut offers a slow reveal of a story ... Liardet does a fine job of seeding the past into the present ... Lovely, unshowy prose...gives lyrical life to the countryside, the seasons, and to Ellen’s sensitivities during a long span of endurance and profound emotion. Intense passion is concealed behind a facade of British modesty in this understated yet blazing story of hearts wounded and restored.