Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It is 1938 and Mariette Carrera is a defiant, strong-willed and selfish seventeen-year-old. And sooner or later, if she stays in the small, gossipy town of Russell, New Zealand, she'll get herself into some serious trouble. Her doting parents, Belle and Etienne, fear for her reputation. So, with the world on the brink of war, Mari leaves home on the SS Rimutaka, bound for her aunt and uncle's house in London.
Armed with the freedom she's longed for since childhood, Mari quickly falls for Morgan, the handsome cockney steward on board ship. But once she reaches London, there are other temptations.
Mari loves her new life - caught up in a whirl of dances and parties in the glittering West End, relishing her freedom as she earns her own money as a typist. Finally, she feels she is mistress of her own future.
Until it is all snatched away by the war.
As London endures the Blitz, Mari's new life is cruelly blown apart. Forced from her loving new home, she ends up alone in the East End, and it's worlds away from the London she knows. But there, even in the face of so much despair, she finds the chance to make a difference. Amidst the destruction, Mari learns that the only way to survive this war is to fight,
with all the strength, selflessness and compassion within her...and only then will she find true happiness.
Because Mari is a survivor...
Survivor is Lesley Pearse’s twenty second novel and once again she does not disappoint but cements herself as one of Britain’s greatest women’s writers.
Survivor is the third in a trilogy which started with Belle and was followed by The Promise. It’s often said you don’t need to read the previous two books to understand what is happening in the story and this is definitely true with Survivor. Survivor can be read as a standalone novel as Lesley subtly drops in key points from the previous two novels. But once you have read Survivor I guarantee you will want to rush straight out and buy Belle and The Promise not to mention all Lesley’s back catalogue. Survivor is a riveting novel and once the story gets going the action does not stop until the very last page.
The opening chapters of Survivor are set in New Zealand during the 1930’s and before the outbreak of World War Two. Belle is now settled in Russell and married to Etienne living a happy life with her daughter Mariette and two sons Alexis and Noel. Mariette is a headstrong, determined, self-centred and often quite selfish girl who longs to leave what she perceives to be the dreary backwater of Russell. She flaunts the rules and dares to not follow convention becoming involved in a dangerous situation with a man called Sam. Her parents soon realise Mariette needs a total change of scene in order for her to hopefully see the error of her ways and find a path which will allow her to change her view of the world. Mariette is sent on a ship to Belle’s friends Noah and Lisette who are married and living in England. On the long voyage across the seas we start to see a small glimmer of change in Mariette when she has sympathy for her cabin companion when she is ill during the trip , her caring nature is exposed in the way she helps Stella. But Mariette’s old ways are not yet buried as she finds time to have a fling with a steward she meets on board called Morgan.
Once Mariette arrives in London she becomes accustomed to a whole new world opening up in front of her eyes. Rose the daughter of Noah and Lisette introduces her to the London social scene and Mariette feels this is where she is meant to be. But things change with the outbreak of World War Two and Mariette is unable to return to New Zealand as planned and therefore must endure the war and all its hardships in England. From here on in the novel really picks up pace and we see the true transformation of Mariette as events overtake her and she is forced to grow up and mature and deal with things in a responsible manner. Mariette goes from an upscale London house with a good job as a secretary in a factory to the war torn streets of Bow as the bombing of a London nightclub alters her living situation dramatically. This scene of the bombing was written really well and brought a tear to my eye which not often happens when reading a novel.
Mariette is forced to endure many hardships during the war but it is also a time when she forgets about her selfish ways and puts the needs of others before her own using the factory where she works as a shelter during air raids providing comfort , shelter, food and clothing for those in need. It is only when housemate Joan is killed in a bombing raid on the shelter that Mariette realises the true extent of the horrors of war and how she is lucky to be alive. From London Belle moves to Sidmouth in Devon where she works in a pub to be nearer to Joan’s two children who she promised she would keep an eye on. Here she begins a war time romance with Edwin who works in the air force. But Mariette’s now caring , compassionate attitude does not go unnoticed by the powers that by and soon she is employed putting her life at risk secretly going to France to help rescue those working for the resistance and wounded
servicemen . Tragedy befalls Mariette and this is a pivotal point in the novel where the title of Survivor rings true and all the courage and strength Mariette has built up is called upon.
I don’t want to ruin the rest of the novel but suffice to say Mariette does change dramatically during the course of her five years away from New Zealand and often as in life it does take change of scenery to make us see the error of our ways and realise we need to appreciate what we have. Yes at the start of the novel I didn’t like Mariette and felt no sympathy for her or the situation she found herself in but by its conclusion Lesley Pearse has skilfully woven a story of change and triumph over adversity and I grew to love Mariette for becoming such a powerful independent woman. Mariette has had a total change in her personality and outlook on life and can now be said to be a courageous and heroic young women. Lesley has written another fantastic , absorbing novel which you can’t put down until the very last page. It’s the perfect novel at over 500 pages in length to curl up with in front of the fire on a wet and windy day. Don’t hesitate to buy this as you won’t be disappointed. I envy anyone who has not yet discovered Lesley Pearse because after reading Survivor they have 21 more books to enjoy. I’ll just have to wait another year for her next exciting enthralling story.
I'd like to thank ED Public Relations for sending me a proof copy of this book and Emma for reviewing it for me.