Survivor Song

Survivor Song


When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe. But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls – her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.

Our Review

“This is not a fairy tale. Certainly it is not one that has been sanitized, homogenized, or Disneyfied, bloodless in every possible sense of the word, beasts and human monsters defanged and claws clipped, the children safe and the children saved, the hard truths harvested from harsh lives if not lost then obscured, and purposefully so.”

I have to admit when I requested Survivor Song I wasn’t sure I was the kind of person who can read about an out of control infectious disease whilst in the middle of a pandemic. Why would I need to read fiction about such a thing when we were living it? However, the premise of the book and my love of hopeless end of the world novels were both too much of a pull to resist.

What a book! Tremblay’s writing is in turns perceptive and humorous. It’s eerie echoes of the current situation could easily have become overwhelming, and there were times where the pit of fear in my stomach was present, but then Nat would make or sarcastic quip or some other character would do something amusing and it would pull me out of the despair.

The dark humour and the powerful nature of the friendship between Ramola (Rams) and Natalie (Nats) are ever present throughout the novel and are just one of many reasons why I ploughed through Survivor Song in just one day.

New England has been locked down to stop the spread of a super infectious strain of the rabies virus. Within an hour of transmission, it’s victims are violent and the hospitals are struggling to cope. A lack of PPE and training means the staff are quickly becoming overwhelmed without taking into consideration the members of the public who are in a panic and think the slightest little thing is a symptom of the virus.

The only way to stay safe from the virus is to stay safe but when Rams receives a call from her best friend, she knows she has to do something. Nat’s husband is dead, Nat herself has been bitten, and she is just days away from giving birth.

A quick warning here, Tremblay is not one to shy away from horrific images. The death of Natalie’s husband is particularly brutal. Also, animal lovers beware. The rabid animals are utterly terrifying but the descriptions of how some of them are dispatched is not the faint hearted.

The book begins with Nats waiting for her husband Paul to come home from getting essential groceries. Nats is clearly worried about him and whilst she is waiting she rereads a Facebook post about the disease and the comments placed below it. The comments are very much like you would expect, there are those who are gung-ho about the situation and those who wants to bury their head in the sand and believe it isn’t happening.

“Headache and flu-like symptoms but it gets soooo much worse and you go crazy, and you get weird and violent and you attack people and you’re fucked and everyone is fucked because there is no cure.”

Nats is recording audio entries on an app on her phone for her child to hear at a later date.

When Paul gets home, Natalie helps him bring some of the groceries in but then she hears an awful sound.

“The steps are hurried, quickly approaching the house, yet the rhythm is all wrong. The rhythm is broken. There’s a grinding lurch, two heavy steps, then a hitching correction, and a stagger, and a drag.”

Before long the intruder has killed Paul and Nats has been bitten and is fleeing for her life.

“This is not a fairy tale this is a song.”

There were many times throughout the book where there were clear similarities with the situation the world is currently facing with Covid-19.

“The heat will be blamed for the outbreak. There will be scores of other villains, some heroes too. It will be years before the virus’s full phylogenetic tree is mapped, and even then, there will continue to be doubters, naysayers, and the most cynical political opportunists. The truth will go unheeded by some, as it invariably does.”


“In the coming days conditions will continue to deteriorate. Emergency services and other public safety nets will be stretched to their breaking points exacerbated by the wily antagonists of fear, panic, misinformation; a myopic, sluggish federal bureaucracy further hamstrung by a president unwilling and woefully unequipped to make rational, science-based decisions necessary; and exacerbated of course, by plain old individual evil. But there will be many heroes too, including ones who don’t view themselves as such.”

Another quote that felt pertinent was the following:

“It will burrow, digging in like a nasty tick; it will migrate; and it will return all but encouraged and welcomed in a country where science and forethought are allowed to be dirty words, where humanity’s greatest invention – the vaccine – is smeared and vilified by narcissistic, purposeful fools (the most dangerous kind, where fear is harvested for fame, profit, and self-esteem), almost ten thousand people will have died.”

One of the things that lightens the load is the easy banter which exists between Nats and Rams.

“When one says one is not trying to be a dick, it generally implies the opposite. ‘

Natalie laughs. ‘I can’t believe you’re calling a rabies exposed preggo a dick. That’s gotta go against your Hippocratic Oath.”

Theirs is not the only noteworthy friendship in the book and there are two characters I would love to devote more time to, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Suffice to say I loved them.

Survivor Song is a well-paced, riveting and emotive story not to be missed.

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

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