Title: The Daughter of Victory Lights
Author: Kerri Turner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HQ Fiction, HarperCollins Australia imprint, (2020)
After serving her country proudly in World War II, Evelyn Bell is not ready to go back to a life of domestic duties. The independence she gained as a member of the all-female 93rd Searchlight Regiment introduced her to a life she didn’t know was possible and beckons her away from the traditional life that is expected of her.
A chance encounter with a stranger opens her world up to a new possibility, that of leaving her life behind to work on the enigmatic ship the Victory and traveling the world with its crew. It is an opportunity for her to create a whole new identity, to transition from Evelyn Bell to Evie; a strong, independent woman, clad in a siren suit and a newfound confidence in herself. Her experience with operating lights during the war pays off when she lands the job of lighting operator during the Victory’s night time performances.
Flynn is called to action after witnessing firsthand the events of Pearl Harbor. He is enlisted into the 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, and is tasked with collecting the belongings of deceased soldiers once the fighting is over. It is a difficult and traumatising job, and it takes its toll on his mental wellbeing. Although he doesn’t admit it, and may not have the vocabulary to understand it, it is clear that he is suffering from PTSD. His trauma follows him throughout the rest of his life, and it begins to affect his relationships and his interactions with others.
The story is split into two timelines, one following Evie after the war, and then a decade later we meet Lucy, her young daughter. While I quite liked the dual narrative aspect, I found myself wanting to stay immersed in the world of the Victory and enjoy the company of the characters. That being said, the turning point at which the narrative changes perspectives is brilliantly executed. It struck an emotional chord within me, and propelled the story forward seamlessly.
Turner’s experience as a performer shines through in her writing. She captures the sights and sounds of a show, the costumes and the emotions that come with putting on a great performance. It was an absolute joy to read about the swimmers darting in and out of the water in their sequined costumes, Bee’s saucy cabaret songs, and Humphrey’s magic tricks. I loved reading about the hijinks the crew got up to while on shore, particularly in Saint-Malo, France.
As with Turner’s debut novel, the characterisation of The Daughter of Victory Lights was outstanding. You fall in love with the cast of characters, who in turn all begin to bond and create their own family. The interactions between characters are as human as they are emotional, and as the characters grow older the reader sees them evolve. Each character, including the ones on the periphery such as Bee, Humphrey and Alvin, are all exquisitely fleshed out and offer a rich reading experience.
Mental health plays an important role in Flynn’s story, and it is something that is not necessarily addressed in fiction set in a wartime era. It was refreshing to see, especially given that Turner had constructed Flynn in a way that offered minimal redeeming qualities when it came to his actions throughout the book. Some of the characteristics of mental illness involve someone behaving in a way that can be hard to understand or interpret, and Turner really captured that aspect in Flynn’s interactions with other characters.
If you’re a fan of Erin Morgenstern’s atmospheric writing style, and musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret, you’re sure to love The Daughter of Victory Lights.