Review: THE JUMP by Doug Johnstone

TheJumpJohnstoneTHE JUMP is not the kind of book you should start when you only have a few reading minutes at hand. Once begun you’ll want need to finish it quickly.

It is the story of Ellie Napier and how she copes, or doesn’t, following the suicide of her teenage son Logan. The book is a portrait of a woman in grief, trying a seemingly random selection of behaviours to get from one day to the next. Or one moment to the next when a day seems too impossible a span of time to contemplate. She gets tattoos. She walks or swims to exhaustion. She compulsively checks her dead son’s Facebook page. She watches the grainy security camera footage of his final moments. She haunts the bridge from which he jumped. One day she sees another teenager preparing to jump from the same bridge. She intervenes. Having blamed herself for her son’s death Ellie feels like this is a second chance. At least that’s the only vaguely sensible explanation for the extraordinary things she subsequently does (though it would only be a heard-hearted reader who could blame her for any of it).

Vincent van Gogh’s At Eternity’s Gate has always been my favourite painting of grief (and please let’s not be sidetracked whether it is what the artist intended the subject to depict, it’s what I have always seen). THE JUMP has exactly the same sensibility for me; somehow feeling more like a painting than a book. Perhaps because it provides such evocative imagery, especially of the massive bridge that looms over the surrounding area, almost inviting people to leap from it. Also, like the painting, though it is unquestionably sad THE JUMP manages to avoid being miserable (there is such a gulf between sadness and misery yet so many writers seem to think the two are indistinguishable). And, before you worry, it’s not one of those frighteningly troublesome ‘let’s all find the joy in sadness together’ stories either. It’s just…honest.

I think I liked THE JUMP for what it isn’t almost as much as for what it is. It isn’t wordy. By today’s standards it’s positively and deliciously brief. It isn’t in your face either. In a way every one of its relatively few words is saying to readers how truly awful a thing suicide is but there’s no proselytising nor any demeaning of the dead and the choices they make. We are simply shown the havoc such an act wreaks on those left behind. Ellie’s husband Ben is equally as bereft as his wife, though his wretchedness is released differently. In any other context his his clinging to conspiracy theories about water quality and other environmental factors to explain suicides might be comical. Here it is just sad and, again, very realistic. I can’t be only reader who wanted to wrap them both in a great big hug.

If you’re wondering (given my usual reading fare), there are several crimes in this book. And in their way they are pivotal. But in another sense they don’t matter at all. And either way I’m saying nothing more about them because I want you to discover all the surprises this book has to offer just as I did. As if unforgettable characters and a haunting setting weren’t enough THE JUMP offers a truly unexpected storyline. I wonder if I’ve already read my favourite book of the year?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I must thank Raven Crime Reads for the recommendation to read this beautiful, beautiful book.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Publisher Faber and Faber [2015]
ISBN 9780571321575
Length 268 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

Creative Commons Licence
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10 Responses to Review: THE JUMP by Doug Johnstone

  1. It sounds like a powerful and evocative book, Bernadette, made all the more so by the fact that it’s almost understated. Those books really stay with you, and I can see why this one did. I’ll have to put this one on the radar… Oh, and I’ve always liked that Van Gogh paintint, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kay says:

    This one caught my eye last year and apparently I bought it at that time. And it promptly went out of my head. Sigh. Anyway, I already own this book and I’m going to go and put it where I can see it – so I’ll read it. That’s the plan.


  3. Patti Abbott says:

    This really appeals to me on many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So thrilled you enjoyed this poignant and thought provoking read. Great review too with real insight into what the author was seeking to achieve. Made my top 5 for the year, as it kept popping into my head at odd moments. Wonderful book.


  5. Matt Paust says:

    I like this, Bernadette: “…there is such a gulf between sadness and misery yet so many writers seem to think the two are indistinguishable…”

    And I like the way you reviewed the book and that it affected you so. I’m adding it to my TLIF (to look into further) list. Thanks for the introduction.


  6. Richard says:

    A woman friend my wife worked with in Denver came home to find her college age son in the basement, dead from heroin overdose. She had no idea he was doing more than sometimes smoking pot, but there he was, needle and kit on the table. That was more than a decade ago, and she still hasn’t gotten over it. It’s as if her life just stopped, or rather froze into her daily routine that hasn’t changed. She goes to work, returns home eats, sleeps. She hasn’t been in that basement since that day. She’s constantly fearful, but can’t explain why. It’s really awful.


    • It sounds as though Johnstone has captured something of this ‘life just stopping’ sensibility Richard. I think that’s what is so striking about the book – about Ellie really – that she is in some kind of hellish Groundhog Day and can’t summon the energy or will to drag herself out of that repetition – it just seems so believable


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