Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Survive, by Alex Morel

After almost a year in a mental institution, Jane has saved up enough good will points from the doctors and nurses for a trip home. She's planned her trip down to the finest detail- she'll catch the supervised shuttle, board the plane, sit quietly for takeoff, then slip to the bathroom and take a fatal dose of pills. "Flicking her own switch" she calls it, killing herself like her father and her grandmother before her...

But Jane's flight does not go her way, despite all her careful planning. During her scheduled trip to the bathroom, the plane encounters turbulence and everything goes black. Waking up wedged inside a plane toilet cubicle, surrounded by charred bodies and smoking wreckage on top of a snowy mountain changes Jane's plans dramatically. Together with the only other survivor Paul, a boy whom Jane had found incredibly annoying during their short pre-flight interaction and later discovers dangling over a cliff anchored to the Earth only by his jammed seat belt, Jane learns that she doesn't want to die, actually.

I thought this book was absolutely gripping- not just the survival element, which was tense and brutal in its own right, but also the emotional transformations that both characters undergo. The loss that the characters have sustained, the pent up grief and anger that has festered inside them for so long is brilliantly captured and it's right that this common experience is what brings them together. The reader can really sense the weight that lifts from the shoulders of both Jane and Paul as they abandon comfortable lies and defences and begin a truly honest relationship- each depending on the other for survival. The book deals sensitively with loss, suicide, depression and the tangled mess of human psychology. Jane's battle with survivor's guilt, feelings of abandonment and resentment are really illuminating and the complexity makes her a very appealing character- she shows the strength and bravery that's required in the struggle with mental illness, and proves how extraordinary and resilient people can be when it comes to weathering adversity and experiencing trauma. She's also sulky in places, and occasionally frustrating and grumpy, which makes her seem all the more real.

Jane narrates in the first person, and I think the author does an excellent job of recreating a teen voice that's both sympathetic and realistic. Jane's crippling self doubt, her anger and her insecurity are evident in her style of speech- she's a good narrator, swearing in appropriate places, experiencing credible doubts and displaying justified fear in places without lengthy chunks of exposition.

A very strong debut with broad appeal- really tense and thought provoking and handles a whole host of difficult subjects in a way that shows the sufferers of mental health issues to be fighters, not victims. I'll be keeping an eye out for future novels from Alex Morel.

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