Summary and book reviews of High Dive by Jonathan Lee

High Dive

by Jonathan Lee

High Dive by Jonathan Lee X
High Dive by Jonathan Lee
  • Critics' Opinion:

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 336 pages
    Feb 2017, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

Book Summary

A bold, astonishingly intimate novel of laughter and heartbreak, High Dive is a moving portrait of clashing loyalties, guilt and regret, and how individuals become the grist of history.

In September 1984, a bomb was planted at the Grand Hotel in the seaside town of Brighton, England, set to explode in twenty-four days when the British prime minister and her entire cabinet would be staying there. High Dive not only takes us inside this audacious assassination attempt - a decisive act of violence on the world stage - but also imagines its way into a group of unforgettable characters.

Nimbly weaving together fact and fiction, comedy and tragedy, the story switches among the perspectives of Dan, a young IRA explosives expert; Moose, a former star athlete gone to seed, who is now the deputy hotel manager; and Freya, his teenage daughter, trying to decide what comes after high school. Over the course of a mere four weeks, as the prime minister's arrival draws closer, each of their lives will be transformed forever.  

High Dive
An excerpt of the novel by Jonathan Lee

What he loved most was walking into the Grand with his daughter at his side. Yes, I created this person, look. A tiny moment of ego in an industry that was all about accommodating others.

Philip Finch, known to everyone but his aged mother as Moose, was driving to the hotel in his fail-safe Škoda 120, a car the color of old chocolate gone chalky. His window was wound down so he could tap ash onto the street and blow smoke out of the side of his mouth. It was important that his daughter shouldn't have to inhale his mistakes. She was in the passenger seat wearing her classic early-morning look: black skirt, white blouse, an elegantly expressionless corpse. Her hair had been cut yesterday. He saw no discernible difference. He told her it looked very good.

They passed the Dyke Road Park and the Booth Museum. Freya started rummaging in the glove compartment, a minor landslide of cassettes. There was a system and she was spoiling ...

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BookBrowse Review


Overall, High Dive is a cleverly worked story, full of acute observations of character and punctuated by a dark and enjoyable vein of humor. Fictionalizing events leading up to a disaster about which every reader has foreknowledge, allows Lee countless opportunities for dramatic irony. Some may be frustrated by the lack of a "splash" or any explanation of what happens to some of the characters beyond the explosion. But Lee does tie up Dan's story well and crafts an ending that mirrors his opening in a poignant and impressively satisfying fashion.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review (633 words).

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Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
High Dive is, of course, a historical novel, detailing events that took place more than 30 years ago, yet there is always a sense of immediacy to the prose ...In the mundane, Jonathan Lee finds the deep end, where all are diving for dear life.

The Observer (UK)
Lee dives deep into the minds and hearts of his characters, skillfully shoring up 'the private moments history so rarely records.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Rich in the comedy of the mundane: the hopes and petty quarrels neatly contrasted with the approaching terror

Spectator (UK)
What's clear straight away is how good Lee is on character...He can be very funny too ... Moose is a terrific creation.

Literary Review (UK)
Lee writes well about the inner lives of his characters and his sensitivity to the complexity of human motivations shows evidence of an empathetic and forgiving emotional intelligence. The pictures he draws of the apparently unknowable nature of those to whom we are closest are poignant and memorable.

The Independent (UK)
Jonathan Lee - a wordsmith of incomparable eloquence - has forged a canny edifice, intricately constructed ...Electrifying ...A work of serious and thoughtful integrity.

Financial Times (UK)
Refreshing ...Warm and compassionate ...High Dive is a moving and charismatic novel ... It succeeds, through its multiple sympathies and scrupulous empathy, on its own terms.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Lee's powerful novel is an extraordinary performance: vividly written, painfully human, and fully fleshing the inner lives of its characters.

Finding humor in unexpected places and elevating the preciousness of life even in mundane moments, Lee tells a completely absorbing story, finding the humanity in each of his flawed characters.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Brilliant, urgent, unstoppable ...An incredible novel of rare insight, velocity, depth, and daring.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Lee's writing has a marked freshness, his pacing and dialogue are exceptional, and every scene is deftly handled. This is a real craftsman at work.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
High Dive is a novel so smart and compassionate and beautifully written that it asks for total immersion. A reader will hold her breath for long, perfectly-paced stretches, and she will surface, dizzied, at the end.

Author Blurb Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End
High Dive is a fascinating look into a troubled past. In taut scene after taut scene, with a fine style and wit among the carnage, Jonathan Lee does service to history and the novel both.

Author Blurb TĂ©a Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife
With wry wit and profound tenderness, Jonathan Lee's High Dive highlights the tensions - between hope and heartbreak, struggle and surrender - at the intersection of the mundane and the momentous. A bold, thrilling triumph of a book.

Author Blurb Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins
Jonathan Lee is a writer of stylish concision, humour, wisdom, and danger.

Author Blurb Evie Wyld, author of All the Birds, Singing
A completely absorbing novel about the lives of people who struggle in small and massive ways. Lee's writing is poignant, fluid, and very funny. Above all else it feels honest - you can see yourself in all of his characters. I really did love this book, and I'm still thinking and worrying about it.

Author Blurb Alexander Maksik, author of A Marker to Measure Drift
High Dive is both wistful and very funny. It is also genuinely lyrical. But more than anything, what distinguishes it from so many other novels is its rare sincerity.

Author Blurb Yiyun Li, author of Kinder Than Solitude
Jonathan Lee is a virtuoso storyteller, combining the skills of a historian, a reporter, a criminal psychologist, and most importantly, a close observer of the complexity of everyday life. What a thrilling new novel.

Author Blurb Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
In fluent, agile prose Jonathan Lee takes on one of the more famous assassination plots in recent history with striking evenhandedness and depth. His novel offers a funny, gripping, and ultimately tragic view into the life of a young IRA man and the dear price he, and his victims, pay during the dark years of the Troubles.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Maze Prison and Its Most Famous Inmate

In High Dive, Jonathan Lee references many aspects of "The Troubles," a term used to describe the turbulent decades in Northern Ireland between 1960 and 2000. At issue was a territorial challenge: the overwhelmingly Protestant Loyalists wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom while the nationalists and mainly Catholic republicans were looking to secede and become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The novel frequently references the Maze prison north of Belfast, the notorious H-block section of the Maze and to the death there, in 1981, of Bobby Sands.

The Maze, also known as Long Kesh, or simply the Maze, was built on an airfield and opened in 1971 as an internment camp to house prisoners and paramilitary offenders arrested and ...

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