Review: The Jump by Doug Johnstone
‘The Jump’ by Doug Johnstone is a gutsy novel dealing with the aftermath of suicide. When fifteen year old Logan Napier takes his own life by jumping off the notorious Forth Road Bridge, his mum, Ellie is consumed with guilt and crushed by grief. Obsessed by her son’s death, she watches CCTV footage over and over again in a hopeless attempt to understand the final moments of Logan’s life. Meanwhile, her husband Ben turns conspiracy theorist in his pained bid to comprehend his only child’s death. One night, on a routine pilgrimage to the bridge, Ellie comes across Sam McKenna, a 17 year-old boy attempting to end his life too. Ellie intervenes, taking Sam home where she discovers a dark secret. Struggling to cope with Logan’s death, Ellie projects her sorrow and desperate need for forgiveness onto Sam. Risking everything for a stranger, Ellie entangles herself in the lives of the McKenna family in an impossible cry for redemption.
Writing about suicide is no easy feat and Johnstone is graphic; courageously refusing to shy away from his intimate and gut-wrenching portrayal of those left behind. Nor does he land on a convenient explanation as to why a fifteen-year-old boy might take his own life. Mental illness provides no real answers and with a determined pen Johnstone creatively forbids the living in his book from making sense of Logan’s death, though they go to extraordinary lengths to do so. Ellie marks the location of her son’s end across her body with tattoos and daringly swims in the precarious waters below the bridge, edging closer to the reasoning that took her son. Ben frantically leaflets and persecutes developers in the area where they live, blaming chemicals from constructive manufacturing for fatally altering his son’s state of mind. Ultimately, Ellie and Ben are chasing the impenetrable belief that it was somehow in their power to keep their son alive, when it was only ever in Logan’s power. Presented with the opportunity to save other vulnerable teens, Ellie and Ben find themselves in cruel waters again, seeking salvation for their son’s death but running the risk of losing each other. Ben and Ellie come to understand Logan may have died but their love for one another remains strong. The loving parents they once were finally emerge from the icy sea and though they have no child to reflect this they can always look to each other for what was lost.
Johnstone’s depiction of the impact on living after suicide is painfully perceptive, made without judgment or smug ponderings. His openness as a writer provides a relentless read. He bravely and sensitively tackles the subject of mental illness and its repercussions for society, taking us where we are often afraid to go as readers. The Jump is an uncompromising page-turner, an unforgettable book possessed of great tragedy and empathy, a truly honest novel that it is impossible to turn away from.
(Originally published in Gutter issue 14)
The Jump by Doug Johnstone
Faber & Faber, RRP £12.99, 288 pp