This has probably been said a million times or more and will no doubt continue to be stated while simultaneously irritating those who have yet to realise just how true it is due to lack of personal experience, but; everything changes when you become a parent.
So much so that I couldn’t possibly attempt to describe it here. Nor would it be relevant to do so. So why do I start this post, a review of the fantastic How To Be Brave by Louise Beech with this?
Well one big shift when becoming a parent is that of self-concern giving way to an all-consuming focus and worry your child’s well-being; what if something were to go wrong? What if they were to become ill?
It’s very hard to put this into words in a manner that truly captures the feeling let alone one that does so in a way that others might want to read. Louise Beech, however, does just that. In How To Be Brave she vividly evokes the sensations of panic and dread that accompany being a parent when a child falls ill and perfectly captures the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world that occurs at such times. Not that it’s a ‘dark’ book, far, far from it.
Natalie’s nine-year-old daughter Rose collapses in the kitchen one Halloween. Following an ambulance trip to the hospital and a little diagnostic testing, Rose is confirmed as having Type 1 diabetes and will require finger-prick tests and insulin injections for the rest of her life. An extremely daunting concept to cope with.
What follows is a great story of a mother and daughter coming to terms with the illness and its ramifications. Louise Beech does a cracking job of portraying the “shut out the world”, “nation of us” feelings that pervade at times of crisis in a family with a tight bond.
It’s also the story of Natalie coming to terms with her daughter’s growing independence and realising that – as much as she or any parent would like to – she doesn’t have to hold her child’s hand all the time anymore.
But that’s not all. For within this story another two are interwoven with Natalie’s attempts to reconnect with her daughter and keep alive her love of books which, in the resultant, insulin-driven emotional fall-out of her diabetes diagnosis had threatened to vanish completely.
First is the mystical presence / visitation of Natalie’s grandfather who appears to both Natalie and Rose and how it leads them to finding another story and a way to connect by leading them to his diary and, in it, his tale of being lost at sea for fifty days following the torpedoing of his merchant ship in World War Two.
(Grandad) Colin’s story is told – via Natalie – in exchange for finger-prick test and insulin injection cooperation from Rose. Through this storytelling we travel to a small boat adrift on the Atlantic Ocean where Colin and the remaining survivors fight to stay alive in their wait to sight land or rescue.
The story of Colin and his plight is told brilliantly and the reader is kept on tenterhooks between instalments and there are times you feel as much eagerness to get back to the men on the boat as Rose does.
Beech artfully weaves the two narratives together with times of crisis for Natalie and Rose mirrored by those times of peril on the lifeboat. As Colin and the survivors are literally cut off from the world and their loved ones Natalie is cut off by the changes in her life, distanced from her daughter by the changes diabetes has on Rose’s personality and seperated from her husband, Jake, by his unit’s tour in Afghanistan. Indeed as Colin’s salvation arrives it’s clear that Natalie and Rose, too, have turned a chapter and have navigated the worst. Rose is now back to her old self and both mother and daughter are at peace with her diabetes, their relationship is restored just as Jake returns, belatedly, home (quietly matching the time at sea spreading beyond the previously calculated 30 days from land).
How To Brave is two wonderful stories wrapped into one compelling read. Louise Beech is adept at both narratives and styles and writes with a confidence and trueness of voice that can only come from experience and yet manages to turn what must have been a truly testing time in her life into a great, gripping and thoroughly rewarding read for all. She’s clearly an author to keep an eye on.
My thanks again to the wonderful Karen at Orenda Books for sending me How To Be Brave and asking me to be part of its Blog Tour. Check out Live Many Lives for yesterday’s and Welsh Librarian Blogspot for tomorrow’s stop and get a hold of the book today, you won’t be disappointed.