Title: The Daughter of Victory Lights
Author: Kerri Turner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 20th January 2020
Synopsis: An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.
‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …
1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqué and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.
At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …
1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?
World War Two. Evelyn Bell volunteers for an all-female searchlight regiment during the Blitz, much to her sister, Cynthia’s chagrin. Once the war ends, she is lost, and for several years she is trapped in her sister’s home. She’s forced to take care of things there, and help with her nephew, Spencer, whom she loves. Her sister is traditional, but Evelyn longs for something more. When she stumbles upon a secret dance show at night, she knows she has found a way to break free and forge her own path, and her own identity away from what everyone around her expects her to do. Here, aboard the Victory, she finds her place, and she finds family, friendship and love, as well as tragedy.
In 1963, ten-year-old Lucy is living with her aunt, unwanted and unloved, when she is whisked away to the Isle of Wight. Here, she finds a home where she is loved and accepted, but where she still has many unanswered questions. Will her new family answer them?
I interviewed Kerri at the end of April as part of my Isolation Publicity series, and as a thank you, she sent me a signed copy of her latest book, The Daughter of Victory Lights. Four months later, I have managed to get to this after managing to get on top of my very large review stack that kept coming for so long, and that will no doubt start to pile up again. This book is set partly in World War Two, but mostly during the post-war years of the early fifties and the early sixties.
Evie’s story is exceptional. She led a life of freedom and danger during the war, and going back has not been an easy adjustment for her, and nor were the years aboard the Victory, yet she was accepted in this place, as was her daughter, Lucy, whose life informs the second half of the novel. Drawing on imagination and various historical accounts and instances, Kerri has created an evocative and emotionally charged book that celebrates uniqueness, family, and the idea that family is what we make of it, not always those we are related to. It also examines the idea that sometimes, the two are intertwined, often in unique and unexpected ways.
Double narratives like this are always intriguing, and often, they alternate between the different time periods as the future character uncovers information about their relative in the past. Yet that wouldn’t have worked with this one. Evelyn’s story needed to be told in one go, as did Lucy’s, to grasp the tragedy and heroism, and inner strength of these characters and their lives. Lucy’s story was equally important and gave the novel its emotional pull and the strength of familial love and support that as a reader, I wished Evelyn had received from her family.
It is at times turbulent and there are moments filled with worry, hoping the worst won’t happen, followed by revelations that are bittersweet and hopeful. Lucy is a strong character and determined not to let anyone continue to lie to her as her aunts have done. I devoured this book within two days, engaging with the characters and their struggles.
The power in this story is in the family relationships, and the role certain people play in our lives, whether they are biologically related or not. It is tragic and hopeful, and a testament to the power of the human spirit and our ability to recover physically, mentally and emotionally after experiencing trauma, and the lengths we will go to so we can pull through.