Reviewed by Harriet
Doug Johnstone is an amazing writer. This is the third of his novels I’ve read, each of which is brilliant and each entirely different. I loved The Dead Beat and reviewed it on Shiny New Books last year, and then I read Gone Again, which I don’t seem to have reviewed but which I also admired enormously, though it is intensely disturbing. And now we have The Jump.
In fact I think if there’s one word for Johnstone’s plots, it might be daring. The Dead Beat takes a protagonist with mental problems and a taste for substance abuse, and manages to make her not just interesting but also likeable and attractive. As for Gone Again, terrible events take place towards the end of the novel, and Johnstone offers no comfortable resolution, so we are left wondering what the future holds for the troubled protagonist and his little son. And now we have Ellie, who lives in the shadow of the Forth Road Bridge, off which, some months before the novel begins, her teenage son Logan has inexplicably committed suicide.
No note. No previous attempts. No cries for help. No overdoses or slashed wrists. No self-harming or mood swings or depression, no trouble at school, no bullying they could uncover….And now he was dead.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t even begin to think how I would cope with such a thing. Ellie and her husband Ben cope, if that’s the word, in very different ways. Ben has taken refuge in conspiracy theories involving toxic chemicals which may affect peoples’ minds, and spends most of his days either online or leafleting the neighbourhood. Ellie broods. She posts messages on Logan’s Facebook page, watches over and over again on her phone the footage of Logan’s jump, which she has managed to obtain from the security cameras. She walks on the bridge, swims in the waters below. And one day, on the bridge, she sees a teenage boy poised to jump from the very same spot where Logan had plunged to his death. Knowing now all about suicide prevention techniques, she manages to talk him back to safety. Then she takes him home. Not to his home, to hers. She hides him, first in Logan’s room, then later on the boat she and Ben own, or in a disused warehouse. She is hiding him from Ben, and also from his own family, because she has discovered Sam’s reason for his attempted suicide and realised that his home is not a safe place for him to be.
I can’t really tell you any more about the way this already tense and somewhat crazy situation develops without giving too much away. But the way events turn out is wholly unpredictable and often shocking. Really this is so far from being an ordinary crime novel as almost not to deserve the name, except of course for the fact that crimes do get committed. But if you’re expecting neat resolutions, think again. As in Gone Again, you will be left wondering how everyone’s lives, and the state of their minds, will pan out after the events they have witnessed and participated in.
Although The Jump is written in the third person, the novel is focused entirely on Ellie, and Johnstone does an amazing job of entering her troubled mind. He seems to understand the destabilising effects of grief extraordinarily well. I was particularly impressed by the way he handles Ellie’s relationship with Sam. To say she uses him as a substitute for Logan is partially true, especially at first, but there’s a very understated but just perceptible element of sexuality that seems to creep in at times too. Or at least I thought so.
So — altogether another winner, and highly recommended.
Doug Johnstone, The Jump (Faber & Faber: London, 2015). 978-0571321575, 288pp., paperback original.