Published by Orenda Books. Read more here
Review by Fraser Ward
Although it appears to sound like it, How to be brave, authored by the undeniably talented Louise Beech, is not a self-help book. Instead, the author has created a captivating novel that should be well received by book lovers all around.
Inspired by the author’s own experiences following her daughter’s Type One Diabetes diagnosis, How To Be Brave follows the first person narrative of mother Natalie coming to terms and tackling her own daughter’s suffering from the aforementioned illness. This serious medical change leads to an unfortunate and negative impact on their relationship, with Rose being required to take daily insulin injections at a young age for the rest of her life.
The strain of the illness begins to lead the two astray, with Natalie becoming helpless in the face of her daughter’s new illness and behavioural changes. However, this changes after Rose suffers from a diabetic ketoacidosis, whereupon the pair begin to see visions of a man whose presence appears mysterious yet strangely familiar. This ghost-like character leads them to a possible life-saving solution in the form of a diary logbook, previously belonging to Natalie’s grandfather during the Second World War.
We learn how the grandfather was a sailor whose boat was bombed, leaving him in the fate of a lifeboat with 13 other men for 50 days. The journal allows the mother and daughter to bond over their heroic ancestry and, through the ability of creative storytelling, Natalie begins to recapture her daughter’s heart again through her love of reading and books.
The experience of reading this book reminded me of why I, and so many others, have a keen interest in storytelling. It allows us to “switch off” from our lives (or, metatextually in Rose’s case, can help make her illness become more bearable) and that sense of escapism allows us to be transported to another world.
I found the novel to be brilliantly structured. The Chapters are divided into two separate stories; first Natalie and Rose’s point of view, with the author showing how they comprehend diabetes as an illness, and the negative effects it can have; and secondly of their grandfather and great-grandfather Colin’s story of being lost at sea. The two narratives dance back and forth with modern chapters ending as soon as their grandfather’s point of view during his tragedy begins.
The two separate stories present connections to each other in which readers can compare the lives on display, which I feel gives this book a more detailed and thoughtful nature. You can tell how much effort and thought went into the publishing of this book, especially in terms of conjoining the narratives, and it clearly pays off given how fluent the experience of reading it is.