The year 1997, with Blair’s rise, Cool Britannia and the death of Princess Diana, provides a fertile backdrop to What Will Survive, a novel that centres around the death in Lebanon of model-turned-landmine activist Aisha Lincoln. From here, the book maps the months before and after the event, focusing on those involved in Aisha’s life – her family, a Tory MP with whom she had been having an affair and a journalist sent to the Middle East to investigate her final days.
As might be expected from a writer known for both her detective fiction and her campaigning journalism, What Will Survive flits between genres. Reading like John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener as rewritten by Joanna Trollope, what begins as a political thriller is toppled by a romance of the rich and famous.
Like Blake Morrison’s South of the River, the novel delights in reminders of 1997; What Will Survive is awash with lattes being drunk to the tinny sounds of the ubiquitous William Tell ringtone. Joan Smith astutely highlights the sense of despair in the Tory party and sharply satirises the British media as only an insider can. Away from these moments, however, much of the novel feels underdeveloped, particularly the artlessly drawn characters, which verge carelessly on stereotype.