You’re probably aware that Diabetes has been in the news recently owing to the announcement that researchers have successfully implanted insulin producing cells into mice. Thus taking large steps toward curing this debilitating disease which affects 6% of the worlds adult population. According to the website www.diabetes.org.uk figures released in November 2015 showed that there are currently 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes. Unlike the UK, there isn’t a national register of diabetes sufferers in Ireland. In 2013 the international Diabetes federation estimated the figure at 207,490. I know at least two people with it, one being my brother-in-law. I don’t know any children with it, although according to Diabetes Ireland www.diabetes.ie there were 2.750 people under the age of 20 with type 1 diabetes according to a paediatric audit in 2012. Type 1 diabetes is 50 times more common in those aged under 18 and the peak age for diagnosis is 10-14yrs. Thus we come to this month’s book – it’s How To Be Brave by Louise Beech.
The book tells the story of Natalie Armitage an army wife and her nine-year-old daughter Rose. The two of them lead a sheltered existence in their home in the suburbs of Hull. It’s Halloween and they are dressed up ready to go trick or treating, when Rose suddenly collapses, along with Natalie’s world and their lives as they know them. Later in the A&E, while waiting to hear what’s wrong with her a daughter, a familiar old man appears beside Natalie and comforts her but when the nurse comes to break the life changing news that Rose has Type 1 diabetes, the old man is nowhere to be seen, just the scent of Sea and Salt. Over the next couple of days their lives are turned upside down with the rather sharp learning curve that comes with getting used to the strict regime of insulin injections and the rapid deterioration of Rose’s personality. One day she is a sweet slightly annoying nine-year-old, then behold an out of control brat. Poor Natalie has to try to get to grips with the diabetes routine, her husband Jake’s absence serving in Afghanistan and the monster possessing her daughter. But the mysterious old man troubles her and unbeknownst to Natalie is visiting Rose in her dreams, until she goes missing. When she is finally found after a frantic search, she tells her mum the old man led her there to find the book. The book in question is a diary belong to Natalie’s Grandad Colin Armitage a merchant seaman whose ship the SS Lulworth Hill was torpedoed off the African Coast in 1943. The diary records his life in the life raft following the sinking. The mother and daughter reach an agreement that Natalie will read the diary to Rose in return for letting her mum administer the injections, which up until then has been the major source of hostilities between the two. Will Colin’s ghost and the story of his sacrifice and bravery while adrift at sea be the tentative bond to aid mother and daughter through the initial trying stages of their new life. Also what of Colin’s story? Do he and the other fourteen occupants in the life raft survive…?
I have to get this off my chest first and foremost, never have I felt such an over-riding urge to slap a character in a book as I have with Rose. Even before she collapsed she was starting to get on my nerves. But afterwards there were times when I just wanted to scream, even throw the book down out of utter frustration.Natalie like most parents these days is up against kids who know the law better than the generations before them and thus play up to their parents and authority figures at every turn.
According to the author H.P. Lovecroft “ The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown“. Yes, this maybe the main driver of Rose’s rebellious streak – but the utter contempt with which she treats her mum is scandalous.
As for Natalie, I have nothing but sympathy for her and predicament she finds herself in although despite numerous offers of help from family, friends and Social Workers, she shuns the advice to seek counselling, when you can clearly she is out of her depth and just treading water. Deep down she’s a mother first and foremost thus she knows that her daughter’s change in character is down to the chemical imbalance and her body’s desperate attempts to recover.
The main thing that kept me reading and the two main characters going forward was Colin’s story. It is a truly dramatic and harrowing read but strangely enough a true story. Colin Armitage is actually Author Louise Beech’s grandfather and was aboard the Lulworth Hill when it was sunk by an Italian Submarine in the South Atlantic on the 19th March 1943. It’s a real eye opener to life adrift at the mercy of the currents and surviving on milk tablets, Bovril tablets, biscuits and a couple of ounces of water a day, having just read We Die Alone by David Howarth, Colin’s experience comes a very close second to it in the endurance stakes.
This is English author Louise Beech’s first book, published in 2015 by Orenda books www.orendabooks.co.uk she’s no stranger to the sea and travelling having been a travel writer for a local Hull newspaper for years, while having her first play performed on stage at the Hull Truck Theatre in 2012, where she also works as a front of house usher.
The whole book is a marrying of two very large chunks of truth and a dollop of imagination to stitch together Colin’s story and Louise’s experiences of coming to terms with a child diagnosed with Diabetes. It makes the book a very good read and one that should get onto the Book Club circuit quite quickly if it hasn’t already.
I was sent my copy by the good people at Orenda Books. I can definitely recommend you get this debut novel, I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for future books by an author who definitely knows how to press one’s buttons and keep you engrossed.