Author Interview: Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet' Younger Britons overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union, while most older voters supported leaving. The British novelist says the results don't bode well for his children's future.

Novelist Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Britain's vote to leave the European Union seems to have opened a generational divide. Polls suggest that up to 75 percent of Britons who are 24 years old or younger wanted to remain in the EU, while over 60 percent of those who are 60 or older wanted to leave. While the older demographic may have won the vote, younger Britons will live longer with the results. We're joined now by one of Britain's most acclaimed young novelists, Chris Cleave. His most recent novel is "Everyone Brave Is Forgiven." He also formally wrote the Down With The Kids column for The Guardian. Chris Cleave joins us from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRIS CLEAVE: Hello. Thank you very much for having me on to speak about this.

SIMON: Did you vote?

CLEAVE: Oh, of course, yes. Yes, I voted.

SIMON: And which way?

CLEAVE: Oh, I voted to remain in Europe.

SIMON: And why?

CLEAVE: Because I am sane. I completely believe in the European project, and to vote to leave it is an extraordinary thing to do.

SIMON: Does globalism work better for younger people or people with an education than it does for people who are older and feel they don't have so many prospects in life?

CLEAVE: Yes, I think there's a sense in which it profits the young to be open to the world. However, I don't see this as a young versus old divide, and I don't write off the older generation of British people. I know so many of them who voted to remain in Europe. And I know so many of them who, even though they voted on the other side, are not bad people. When you're talking about older people, you're talking about people that have children and grandchildren that they care about. I'm not accusing them of being selfish or voting selfishly, but I do think it's regrettable - the way it's exposed this big split in the country.

SIMON: Your new novel, "Everyone Brave Is Forgiven," is a World War II story. The Blitz is in many ways a kind of modern epic tale of Great Britain. Is there a strain of the British character that does not feel European because they feel that at least twice in the 20th century they've had to stand up to the bullies in Europe?

CLEAVE: Well, I think that the generation who fought that struggle - all the subsequent generations have profited from the struggle that they fought to bring Europe back together and the struggle that they fought after the war to unify Europe and keep it together and keep it peaceful. So I don't go for the argument that there's something spiritually British about that independence. I think it is a big fantasy that currently holds sway amongst a large part of the British population - this almost Arthurian idea that now we've voted to become independent, some chalice, some grail will appear above the nation and lead us on to a glorious future. But I think it is just that. I think it's a fantasy.

SIMON: You've got, what, three children?

CLEAVE: Yeah, I have three children. And this morning, I had to break the news to them at the kitchen table. I just told them that this choice had been made that would affect them for the rest of their lives. It's not an election. It's a referendum, and there isn't any going back. And the emotion in that room was unlike anything I've ever seen. You know, they're young, but they get it. They understood that this was important, and they understood, I think for the first time, that their lives are going to be a little bit more difficult now.

SIMON: Chris Cleave - his new novel, "Everyone Brave Is Forgiven." Thanks so much for being with us.

CLEAVE: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.