This is a grim book, which somehow manages to be uplifting. Doug Johnstone is not the kind of author to spare his readers the sheer horror and nastiness of life, but he does not leave us in despair. Nor does he leave us thinking that everything can be fixed, and that everything will turn out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. He knows that is not true. He is not Pangloss, not by any means. But he also knows that humans are resilient and that they cope. And this story is very much about that process of coping and surviving.
The story begins with Sam standing on the parapet of the Forth Bridge about to jump. Ellie sees him. He is in the spot where her son, Logan, committed suicide six months previously. Ellie talks Sam down. And then slowly Ellie finds out why he was going to jump and gets embroiled in Sam’s life. Things do not get better from there.
To be honest, they get steadily worse. Except for one thing, which is Ellie’s determination to protect Sam, and his sister Libby, and to make things as right for them as it is possible to be.. This is a story about how we achieve redemption. It makes you ask if second chances are possible. It shows how desperation can lead people into some terrible places. It shows how people can be led inexorably to a place where their choices are so limited as to be non-existent. Job would recognise the dilemma that Ellie finds herself in.
I am not going to tell you what that dilemma is. For that, you must read the book. I repeat, however, that this is not an easy book to read. The plot is driven by Logan’s suicide. If Logan had not jumped, Ellie would not have been on the bridge, and there would be no story. And Logan’s suicide is a thread of despair that runs throughout the book. It has happened. It cannot be made better.
Doug Johnstone is obviously aware that suicide is the biggest cause of death amongst young men. The Jump is his method of bringing this fact to our attention, and making us think about the issue. He holds our attention because he is a consummate storyteller, but also because he has something to say about something important. You will really want to know what happens to the characters in this story, and how they come through the mess in which they find themselves.
Johnstone is too good a writer to provide easy answers, and sometimes he does not provide any. The question underlying the whole story is this: Why did Logan jump off the bridge? The only person who can answer that is Logan, and he is six months dead at the start of this novel.
If you want a book where people do not swear and curse when stressed, this is not for you. If you want a book where it all ends happily ever after, do not read this book.
If you want a book that examines the tragedy of life, if you want a book that deals with the darkest places of the soul, if you want a book that thinks about hope, redemption and salvation, then this book is for you. You will not find this an easy story, but you will be the better for reading it.