A young man returns to his home town, a faded beach community in Tasmania, after years away in Sydney. With his partner and new baby, Kieran comes back to help his mother, unable to cope since his father developed dementia, pack up the family home.
Twelve years previously tragedy engulfed the tiny community of Evelyn Bay when a massive storm resulted in the deaths of two young men at sea. One of them was Kieran’s older brother, Finn; the other, a young father whose son, now grownup and working at the town’s beach bar/restaurant, remains furious with Kieran, whose behaviour on the day of the storm is still blamed by the community for their deaths. On the same night a schoolgirl, Gabby Birch, disappeared and has never been found.
When Kieran returns to his hometown twelve years later, another grim tragedy immediately unfolds. Bronte, a young waitress at the bar, is found dead on the beach on Kieran’s first night back. The stage is set for a cataclysmic catharsis. What exactly is going on in Evelyn Bay?
I absolutely loved this subtle, intimate novel. Yes it’s a murder mystery, but also a chronicle of youth, grief, and growing up. As in Harper’s previous books, The Dry and The Lost Man, landscape is key to both character and story, but in The Survivors, she turns from the burning Australian desert to the wild ocean of the Tasmanian coast. The Survivors of the title are three enormous iron statues facing the sea at Evelyn Bay, a memorial to passengers and crew who perished in a shipwreck a century ago. They symbolise Kieran’s struggle to survive the trauma and guilt of the ferocious storm, and the once thriving town’s fight to survive its descent into obscurity, a seasonal stopover on the backpacker trail, the kind of place young people can’t wait to get out of. When Kieran is forced to return, his reunion with old friends and family brings truth but catastrophe. A brilliant read.