Written by Doug Johnstone — One day Ellie’s teenage son, Logan, committed suicide by stepping off the apex of the Forth Road Bridge and plunging to his death. Less than six seconds from stepping over the railing to smashing into water as hard as concrete. In the intervening six months Ellie has been struggling to cope with her loss. She can’t understand why Logan did it, there were no signs of his unhappiness, his intent. She and her husband are simply existing, each getting through via their own coping mechanisms.
Ellie walks for miles, swims and has tattoos of Logan and the bridge all over her body. Almost every day she leaves her house that sits in the bridge’s shadow and climbs to the point where Logan jumped, trying to imagine what it was like. She posts messages on his Facebook page and even watches CCTV footage of Logan’s last moments, all in an attempt to make sense of life and death. Meanwhile, her husband has become a conspiracy theorist. He believes a chemical has been released into the atmosphere that drives people to their deaths and Logan succumbed to it.
But then everything changes. On one of her walks Ellie meets a young man, just a few years older than Logan, who’s about to jump from the same point on the bridge. Ellie talks Sam down and so begins a series of events that will change the course of their lives. Ellie learns that Sam has just stabbed his father, a policeman. He survived but is in intensive care. He did it because his father was interfering with his 11-year-old sister, Libby. Ellie decides to help both Sam and Libby, undertaking a crusade to save them from their father, and herself from her unhappy existence. With the help of her husband Ellie goes to the furthest reaches of what is lawful in order to do so, and beyond.
Doug Johnstone is an author who counts the likes of Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Chris Brookmyre among his admirers and, on the strength of The Jump, it’s easy to see why. This is a real page turner, the narrative deceptively fast. It took me only two sittings to chew through this novel. The basis for the unfolding events – suicide and incest – are dealt with bluntly, but with sufficient sensitivity. It’s like the author’s wrapped a brick in velvet and hit you over the head with it a couple of times. Smooth and blunt.
For example, Logan’s suicide is relatively graphic. Ellie calculates how many seconds (5.6 to be precise) it takes to fall from the bridge, thinks about the impact of the fall on the human body, and studies the description of the CCTV footage. It’s painful and in your face, but it isn’t gratuitous. There’s real empathy generated. And by doing so the author creates some very strong motivations for his major characters, us mere mortals would probably go running to the police, unable to take the steps that Ellie and Sam do. Johnstone keeps it just the right side of grim and believable.
Given the subject matter there can’t be a truly happy ending, but it is satisfactory, nevertheless. The characters get about the best out of it that they can. And from where they started that’s a pretty good deal…
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars