Survivor by Lesley Pearse

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Lesley Pearse is one of my favourite authors and Survivor is the follow up to her books Belle and The Promise. I loved those books and really enjoyed following Belle and Etienne’s stories and so Survivor was a must read for me.

In this book Belle, Etienne and Mog are minor characters as we are following the story of their daughter Mariette. But for me it was great to see how they were doing and what happened to them after they reunited in New Zealand. They are characters we love and are like extended family.

Mariette is an interesting character. She is strong minded and she represents the change of time since we last read about Belle’s journey. It’s the 1930’s and the world has developed, things have changed and life is different. Russell is a tiny backwater town and I can understand Mariette’s frustrations at life, coming from a small village myself. She is intelligent and there is nothing to challenge her, and no opportunities. She is a little selfish and over confident, but as the story goes on we get to see her development into a strong, independent woman. Mariette goes through so much in her life in London and despite the tragedies and setbacks she keeps going, helps people and grows to understand that life isn’t all about material goods but about happiness and making the best of what you have.

There are many men in Mariette’s life, including one called Morgan who we are unsure of at the start. He seems nice but there is an edge to his character. He is a contrast to Mariette in terms of his background which adds to the story. Also he encourages Mariette to go to the East End of London and see what real community despite the poverty is like and the irony is that Mariette does have to experience this in the story for real. Morgan is a grounding element to Mariette. He represents the real people who have to make it through determination and seize opportunities available to make something of themselves. He is a challenge to what Mariette knows also and that is what makes him stand out from the other men in her life. He was a likable character but never took away from Mariette’s story – only added to it.

Lesley has weaved a lot of historical detail about World War 2 into this book and it is fascinating to read. As the years move on in the story Lesley depicts the changes in the war fight and weapons, e.g. the use of bombs used by the Germans such as ordinary bombs, doodlebugs and V-2 rockets. Lesley has re-created for us the emotion, fear, and atmosphere of England at the time and for me this was powerful. I really felt for those people caught up in the war and bombings in this story and also in real-life. Their attitude towards the horror, loss and devastation they went through is inspiring. The Blitz part of this story was emotional to read. Through history we know it was an awful part of WW2 but this story really brought that horror to life as if we were there witnessing everything. One key moment for me in the book was the bombing of Café de Paris as it is a famous tale and really brought home to many that no-where was safe. Mariette’s covert work in France really touches upon the people who helped the war effort but don’t know much about. This part of the story was intense but I think it was important as it gave us a more rounded picture of the contributions to the war and for Lesley to touch on children’s stories in the war. Lesley also touches upon what happens to injured people during the war and this was a heartfelt aspect of the story.

This is a gripping, engrossing story that you feel part of and you can imagine being there seeing the action, feeling the atmosphere and the emotion. Like her other books Lesley has whisked us off to the sights and sounds of the 1930’s and 1940’s in New Zealand and England. The war detail is a central theme to this story but love is there also. Mariette is a young girl and is looking for love and we do want her to have that happy ending.

I don’t want to say too much as it will give away the story, but overall I loved this book and was sad to see it end. I would recommend it to anyone to read as it is historical fiction at its best with adventure, bravery, loss and love.

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