I’ve been desperate to read ‘How To Be Brave’ by Louise Beech since it was published in paperback by Orenda on 17th September 2015. It is also available as an ebook. So many in the blogging community have been raving about this book that I was delighted to be offered the chance to listen to the unabridged Audible audio version read by Finty Williams. My enormous thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda books for this chance in return for an honest review.
Whilst Natalie’s husband, Jake, is serving in Afghanistan, she finds she has to deal with her nine year old daughter Rose’s sudden and life-threatening onset of Type 1 diabetes. When they both seem to encounter the same familiar man in their dreams and at the hospital Natalie realises there is a story belonging to her grandfather Colin that also needs to be told.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about listening to, rather than reading, ‘How To Be Brave’ but Finty Williams’ delivery of Louise Beech’s spellbinding writing is incredible and I think she does perfect justice to the story, and is obviously assisted by the wonderful quality of Louise Beech’s prose. ‘How To Be Brave’ is stunning. The craft of storytelling is outstanding and all the more so because this is a debut novel. There are spirals of narrative that interweave so that Rose’s condition is closely linked to the story that emerges from her great-grandfather’s diaries as he is stranded on a lifeboat at sea. The style is fluid and natural and almost hypnotising to listen to.
One element that appealed to me too was Rose’s tackling and frequent criticism of Natalie’s storytelling which actually gave me as a reader a real insight into the writing process as well as enjoying this emotional and beautifully written narrative.
The concept of bravery ripples through so that every reader can find someone to relate to in the cast of characters. I don’t usually enjoy children in books, but Rose is utterly believable. She is stubborn, cheeky, frightened, sad and challenging – all the things a nine year old can be, and she is also brave as she endures the injections and blood checks. Equally, Natalie’s attempts to deal with her changed daughter, Jake’s time in Afghanistan, and Colin’s stoic attitude whilst hoping for rescue are acts of bravery that I found so compelling.
I think it’s impossible to encounter this story without being affected by it. I’m finding it difficult to convey how fabulous the writing is – as Louise Beech has left me, to quote her, ‘speechless, full of silent words’ and not a few tears. Given that Louise Beech has based her debut on her grandfather’s diaries and it is grounded in fact, following her own child’s illness, I think her grandfather would be immensely proud of what she’s achieved in creating a book that will stay with readers, and listeners, for a very long time.
This is a book that everyone should read – or listen to.