Liardet is a masterful observer of the telling minutiae of life, from gestures and speech to the familiar things that surround us and from which we draw meaning. In We Must Be Brave, the way objects persist through time – a weathervane, a sheepskin, the painted-over holes in a windowframe left by long-gone blackout blinds – makes them into wordless talismans against impermanence, perhaps even death. It’s rare to find a novel in which everyday items are so carefully and luminously rendered, and the effect is powerful...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.
Frances Liardet creates a rich portrait of country life before and during the war by focusing on carefully observed, intimate domestic details — a world where grim privation and simple kindnesses sit side by side. Ellen, beset by hardship from a young age, ends up happy in a mariage blanc with the much older Selwyn, the bookish local miller, and is convinced she doesn’t want children until Pamela arrives. Then she experiences an all-consuming love that Liardet captures on the page with a heartbreaking conviction.
...there's something of the cosy Aga Saga about the village life that's conjured up, with a cast of characters that includes a saintly husband, a no-nonsense but kindly lady of the manor, a wise and caring gardener and a cantankerous but loveable working-class best friend... Yet while it provides too many minutiae about Ellen's experience of village life, it conveys a vivid sense of place and of period. And it succeeds in being genuinely affecting about the well-meaning but misguided choices that people make and the lost lives that ensue from these choices.