Book review: The Survivors by Jane Harper

Thursday, September 24, 2020 Permalink

I’ve actually just written an assignment for my Masters about Australian crime fiction and mentioned Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry and the rise and rise of rural or outback noir. Released in 2016 The Dry won much acclaim and a lotta love. It’s since been adapted for television and will hit our screens in 2021. And though I’m looking forward to it, I much preferred Harper’s 2019 standalone novel, The Lost Man.

Although her fourth book, The Survivors, has a different feel to Harper’s previous books, it occurred to me there’s a strong theme underpinning all of her novels (including the two Aaron Falk ‘detective-based’ books). It’s one of families, of childhood and long-past legacies, and the impact they continue to have many years later.

Book review: The Survivors by Jane HarperThe Survivors
by Jane Harper
Published by Macmillan Australia
on 22/09/2020
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1760783943
Pages: 384

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

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea, that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...

Harper is an excellent story-teller. She writes well but the words disappear (which is a good thing!) and it’s all about the characters and their stories. Here Kieren is our narrator. We hear—through him—that he’s a murderer. Of course there’s more to it than that and Harper ekes that story out amidst the current mystery. There are few similarities between the events but the death of Bronte brings back many memories.

I loved the character of Kieren. Harper draws him beautifully. He’s affected by his past but not the cliched ‘flawed’ or injured protagonist. His relationship with his parents is fractured but again, Harper unravels this and brings it to a head in an understated way which is achingly touching.

Unlike her previous novels we’re offered a coastal setting but it again plays a large role and Harper manages to effortlessly place us on the beach and on the rocky coastline. I certainly got a sense of the beauty but also the dangerous nature of… well, nature.

As in The Lost Man there’s the whole, ‘man returning home’ scenario here and it’s fascinating how easily people slide back into their childhood relationships, but at the same time be conscious that things are different. Here Kieren’s two best friends ‘stayed’ whereas he left and though he realises he’s changed a lot, he’s struck by the sense, now home again—albeit briefly—that he never left at all.

I liked the sense of understatement Harper offers throughout this entire novel. It’s not overwritten. The story and the traumatic events of the past hover bleakly but they don’t overtake those of the present. In many ways there’s a benign acceptance of them and the impact on everyone involved. There’s a lot of nuance here and it’s another excellent read from Harper.

The Survivors by Jane Harper was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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