Books & Literature

Book Review: The Survivors, by Jane Harper

THRILLER: Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The Survivors is a story that will keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Jane Harper is a bestselling Australian author who came to fame when she released her first novel, The Dry. It has been adapted into a motion picture starring Eric Bana. Since then, she has written Force of Nature and The Lost Man. Harper has won numerous awards including the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year, the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Year and the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year.

The Survivors is Harper’s fourth novel. She has moved from the hot towns of central Australia to the small Tasmanian beach town of Evelyn Bay. Summer is drawing to a close and the tourists have mostly gone back to their jobs, and universities.

Narrator Kieran, with his partner Mia and their baby daughter Audrey, have come back to the town to help his mother Verity move to a unit and his father Brian move to a nursing home. They are all dealing with memories of their past. Years ago, they all lost someone they loved on the night of the terrible storm. Kieran is still dealing with the consequences of a terrible mistake he made.

We are introduced to Ash, Olivia and Sean, friends from their youth when they were all friends, growing up swimming, exploring the local caves and meeting girls and boys who have come to holiday at Evelyn Bay. One morning a young girl who has been working at the local pub is found dead on the beach. And so begins a search for the truth of what happened and speculation as to whether there is any connection to the events of 12 years ago.

Harper is able to give the reader well-rounded characters, with just enough information to keep us guessing until the end. We can easily imagine the cave system at the end of the beach, the darkness and fear we would feel if we were to walk through these caves, and the seaside town itself with its residents and secrets. It is easy to imagine the statues called the Survivors placed out at sea over-looking the shipwreck off the coast. We have sympathy for Kieran, dealing with his guilt, but also recognising his maturity as he analyses his past mistakes and has become a more caring and mature human being.

The Survivors is not as fast paced as The Dry or Force of Nature. It has a slow beginning but it definitely picks up in the second half when it becomes more compelling. Harper has woven a story of intrigue, easily capturing the spirit of a typical Aussie seaside town. Her characters are all flawed in some way and dealing with their demons, some better than others.

The story moves from present day to 12 years ago without warning and the reader needs to be aware of this swapping back and forth. As we read about their past, we catch a glimpse of what life was like before movements like #metoo when teenage boys saw girls as someone to conquer and put another notch in their bragging belt.

As well as struggling with the grief of losing loved ones, The Survivors deals with the family trauma of coping and caring for a family member who is suffering from dementia. Many readers will understand the loss felt as someone close to them loses their ability to remember anything and their personality changes.

The Survivors is a story that will keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Pan MacMillan Australia
Released: September 2020
RRP: $32.99

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