The Brave, by Nicholas Evans
The Blurb: The motto of the boarding school to which Tommy Bedford is dispatched is ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’. It’s 1959 and the school bristles with bullies and sadistic staff. Tommy, a quirky loner, obsessed with cowboys and Indians, needs all the bravery he can summon. Salvation comes when his glamorous actress sister is swept off to Hollywood by one of his heroes, TV cowboy Ray Montane. But with the Cold War looming, the sinister side of Tinseltown seeps through and Tommy and Diane soon find themselves in jeopardy. Forty years on, Tommy has to confront his boyhood ghosts when his own son finds himself charged with murder.
Overall we were disappointed by this novel, based on our expectations having read other books by this author. We all felt that too many ideas had been crammed together, any one of which could have been explored in much greater depth, and that they didn’t really go together well or bear much relation to each other.
It could easily have made a trilogy of books: Tommy’s early life in the U.K whilst Diane worked her way up to stardom, then their time in America and the film industry (we did like the portrayal of Hollywood – not all glitter and glamour) and finally Tommy’s marriage, career, and his relationship with his son. This would have given the author space to explore the characters in more depth. So many elements were touched on but not fully developed including: the Native American side of things; how Tommy was brought up by the wrangler following Diane’s execution; the British grandparents and how things worked out for them over all the years after they were left back in the U.K. with Diane as a rising star in the movies and then her trial and execution; Tommy’s relationship with Danny after his marriage broke down. These were glossed over and so much more could have been said. Nicholas Evans is so good at expressing the emotions and feelings of his characters in other books making this all the more disappointing.
The story jumped about in time which was a bit confusing – it might have worked better written backwards. The device of Tommy’s mother being on death row in the very first chapter, the description of her, etc. spoiled the revelation that his “sister” was really his mother and meant we knew too soon what happened after Ray got shot. Also when his “mother” was described back in the U.K. in the next few pages it was obvious this could not be the same woman, so again you knew something was up way before the part where we find that Diane is really his mum.
It was that felt the main story didn’t really connect with the Iraq war in present day. There was no real comparison between the two situations although Tommy and his son at least had living with the guilt in common, although Danny’s admittance he knew he’d shot someone who was unarmed made his character unsympathetic and the verdict of his trial by the army unsatisfying / unsettling.
The conclusion we came to was that with more attention to the plotting of the novel and more in depth exploration of the relationships between the main characters, the book could have been made so much better than we felt it was now.