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High Dive
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Group reads > High Dive by Jonathan Lee (June 2018)

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message 1: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
Our group read for June is the winner of our 1980s poll, High Dive by Jonathan Lee. High Dive by Jonathan Lee

Here is the Goodreads blurb:

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.

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.


Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments This has just come in for me at the library so will collect it today and start reading over the weekend.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
I loved this book. I will consult my review and then come back with some spoiler free observations.

I really look forward to seeing what others make of this book.


message 4: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
I also loved this and, after reading it, I read Something Has Gone Wrong: Dealing with the Brighton Bomb Something Has Gone Wrong Dealing with the Brighton Bomb by Steve Ramsey

That was an interesting, oral history - mainly from the point of view of the emergency services.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
An absolutely superb book.


It was actually Susan's five star review of 'High Dive' which inspired me to read this. I am very glad I did.

I well remember 12 October 1984, the day the IRA bomb blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton, and where the Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. I was living in Brighton then and had, coincidentally, been in the hotel a few hours before the device went off. So, the book had extra resonance for me.




message 6: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
Were you interviewed in the investigation, Nigeyb? I know the police tried to track down everyone who had been there - although they quickly worked out there had been a timer device. Something Has Gone Wrong: Dealing with the Brighton Bomb had a lot about the attempt to track down the culprits.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
No I wasn't. I did hear the explosion in the night. It did make me realise just how lax the security was though. I actually walked past the Thatchers on that same night. Amazing eh? The next year there was an exclusion zone and police everywhere.


message 8: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
I used to walk to work through Downing Street, but, of course, you can't do that anymore either. Thank goodness you weren't hurt, Nigeyb.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Thanks Susan. I think we all could have lives transformed in an instant. All the more reason to try to enjoy and appreciate the moment.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I also loved this and, after reading it, I read Something Has Gone Wrong: Dealing with the Brighton Bomb "


That looks really interesting Susan. I enjoyed your review too.

Did you come away with the view that High Dive got the facts right?




Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Back to High Dive, the genius of this novel is that whilst we know what's going to happen, and how afterwards five people will have died, alongside numerous others who were injured, we don't know who.

Quite probably some of the dead or injured will be characters that Jonathan Lee has so beautifully brought to life in the pages of this book.


message 12: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
Something Has Gone Wrong looks at the aftermath, whereas High Dive is more concerned with things leading up to the event. I thought it was an interesting addition to reading the novel.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
It's a fascinating era - and it makes the Good Friday Agreement all the more of an achievement

I hope that Brexit doesn't set us back decades - some modern politicians seem oblivious to recent history and the likely consequences of a hard border


message 14: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia I don’t know why I’m so shocked by the David Attenborough name drop in the book. My brain wants to think this is anachronistic (but of course he was already a public figure back then.)


message 15: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments He has been around for a long time. Zoo Quest was first aired in December 1954.


message 16: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia What an amazing career! When I slow down to think about it of course it makes sense. I think it confused me because most of the cultural figures named in the book have either retired or passed away, whereas I still think about spending a lazy weekend watching the latest Attenborough today. He feels too contemporary to also belong to a historical era.


message 17: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
Not sure about anyone else, but I found the start of this novel really shocking. However, later I read other novels where the same/similar plot device was used. I am now wondering whether the dogs part of the plot (this is at the very beginning, so not a plot spoiler) is over-used.

I must admit that, when I think of the Eighties, there are a lot of political, major events that come to mind in the UK alone; let alone worldwide. The miner's strike is something which dominated the news at time and which was SUCH a huge story. Are there any novels set around that that anyone would recommend?


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
The dog scene is shocking. I abhor any cruelty to animals so react badly to unnecessary cruelty and bad treatment. In my world it's akin to child cruelty or abuse.


Susan wrote: "The miner's strike is something which dominated the news at time and which was SUCH a huge story. Are there any novels set around that that anyone would recommend? "

Look no further than...

GB84 by David Peace...

The 1984 miners' strike brought to vivid, painful and dramatic life by David Peace. Here he describes the entire civil war, with corruption from government to boardroom, and all the tumultuous violence, passion and dirty tricks.

It's extroardinary. GB84 is dramatisation of the miners' strike in which real events (Orgreave, the Brighton bomb) and real people (Arthur Scargill, Margaret Thatcher, Ian MacGregor) mingle imperceptibly with Dave's creations. "This novel", he notes in the acknowledgements, "is a fiction, based on fact" and Dave does not take liberties with the strike's trajectory. A gripping read and, as with all his books, it brilliantly evokes the era.





Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments I managed about 100 pages of this book, but it's not for me. Hard to say why, I often enjoy unsettling books but this one just feels wrong. The initial scene that Susan has mentioned certainly set an unpleasant tone, but even the Brighton scenes are not working for me. Oh well, it happens.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Thanks Pamela. I'm sorry to discover that it's not for you. Well done for giving it a go.


Had you met teenager Freya yet? Undoubtedly the star of the show, full of the uncertainty and bravado of youth.

Her father Moose is the Deputy General Manager at the Grand Hotel, and she works at the hotel too, alongside a host of other well drawn characters.


Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments Yes I liked Freya, Moose not so much. It was more the style of the writing than the characters that put me off, there is an undercurrent that seems to go beyond just foreshadowing the bomb. I know that sounds vague, sorry!


message 22: by Val (last edited Jun 06, 2018 02:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments If the 'dog test' was such a regular thing, I can't see the dogs being so willing to take part in it. (view spoiler)
On a more serious note: I could not really believe in that part of the story. Some of it is clearly based on things that did go on, (view spoiler)


message 23: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
I really liked the character of Moose and Freya.

Nigeyb, I am intrigued - David Peace. How did that pass me by? I will investigate immediately.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
I hope you love it as much as I did Susan


message 25: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia I'm about half way through at this point, I really like Freya, somewhat sympathetic to Moose, I enjoy the dive/ falling/ decline symbolism.

I really, really, really hate Susie. I don't know who is going to end up causing what yet, what role is Susie playing in all this, but she seems comic-book villain level manipulative, selfish and antisocial. I half expect her to throw Freya under the bus and then justify it with "social justice."


message 26: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
Lia, glad you are enjoying it. I won't give spoilers, but we'll talk about Susie when you've finished :)


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
What did we think of Dan, the bomber?


His sections are the darkest. However his motivation is credible. Dan lives with his aged mother in a Protestant area of Belfast where some of the neighbours harass them, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary humiliate him and his Catholic friends. Dan blames the police for the death of his father, who was hit by a brick during a civil rights rally.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
A photo of the Grand Hotel after the bomb....





A newspaper headline after the bomb.....




message 29: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
One of the things the author does so well is to make all the characters sympathetic. I liked Dan's mother and the fact she knows pretty well what is going on, despite Dan's imagining her to be wholly ignorant of his activities.


message 30: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia I finished!

I'm angry about the abuses Dan and his family suffered -- and I know having sympathy is not the same as condoning what he did, but I still don't have sympathy for him overall. If I focus only on his humiliation and his losses, sure, I feel empathy. But if I look at his whole trajectory, not at all.

It doesn't help that I grew up exposed to self-identified "outcasts" on the Internet "bragging" about what they like to, plan to, or have done to random people to "get even" at society, who celebrate whenever there's an acid attack or school shooting or car running over protesters. I've lost my ability to have sympathy for people who tell us their hands are "forced" by society and terrorism is "justice."


message 31: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Yes, it is a problem with that section of the book. Many people suffered as Dan's family did, only a minority of them supported the Provisional IRA, a much tinier minority joined up and a minority of those took part in terrorist activity. Lee makes it sound almost inevitable that Dan would be one of them, without taking account of the vast majority who were not.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
I agree with both of you - and as Val states not many people would become terrorists in Dan's situation.

That said, I do think his journey to terrorist is credible.

I also wondered if he might change his mind before the end of his "mission" having got to know some of the employees a little bit.

That tension is part of what worked so well I thought.


message 33: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia Nigeyb wrote: "I also wondered if he might change his mind before the end of his "mission" having got to know some of the employees a little bit..."

That reminds me of this:

“He felt that if a bullet was going to hit him now it was coming from a gun that had already been fired.

But then: there’s always the unexpected. [...] he wasn’t prepared, either, for the way that, looking at her skin unspoiled by make-up or injury, he’d sense within that receptionist girl not arrogance, not ignorance, not the hoped-for signs that she liked to serve the ruling elite. The way he would see only an openness to life, and a need to be liked. She would blink a lot. She would touch her hair. He liked the weary belligerence that darkened her face each time she put pen to paper. She was an uncertain and determined person, and in that uncertainty and determination he was surprised to find something he recognised. He saw it for an instant and then forgetfulness came, affording him its useful distance”


This part is so believable it’s upsetting for me — the way Dan thinks of himself as having higher ideal and surprised to notice other people aren’t shallow, vapid, or evil. It really really reminds me of how a certain subculture on the Internet today like to dehumanize others as “normies” and “degenerates”.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Thanks Lia - that section is a perfect illustration


message 35: by Susan (last edited Jun 07, 2018 08:56AM) (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
'Us' and 'Them,' always causes problems... Interesting comments, Lia.


message 36: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Dan lives with his aged mother in a Protestant area of Belfast..."
Lee does not refer to it as 'a Protestant area of Belfast', he shows it as a more upmarket, almost middle-class area. I think that is an important difference, because it explains why Dan's parents and other Catholic families did not want to move out. They had managed to climb a little way up the social ladder and were proud of it.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Thanks Val. It's about a year since I read it and do not recall picking up that particular detail. In my mind's eye I had a row of terraced houses. That could well be informed by my visits to Belfast, and specifically visiting the different staunchly Loyalist and Republican areas.


message 38: by Val (last edited Jun 08, 2018 12:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Having slated him for something he did not portray well (Dan's becoming a terrorist seeming inevitable), I thought I should mention something where he did get the nuance right. There are different staunchly Loyalist and Republican areas, but the almost complete segregation was not always the case.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
Yes indeed, not every area was the scene of expulsions, house burnings etc. And a lot was the result of individual choices. I know social housing remains deeply segregated. And obviously schools are still mostly separate.

I found this recent map of how things were in 2013...




message 40: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
That's an interesting map, Nigeyb. Schools, as you say, are still a contentious issue.


message 41: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Here is one for Belfast (1991 census):
http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/i...


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
That’s interesting Val.


I am struck by how the truly mixed (yellow) areas are few and far between.

Do they still have the huge walls and crossing points in Belfast that were there in the 70s?


message 43: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
I have not been to Belfast since I was a child at the time of the Troubles (when I visited with my Catholic father and an English accent). I do recall the crossings then and the soldiers - it was all terribly exciting to me as a child, although I obviously did not realise the ramifications at the time.


message 44: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia Thanks for the nuanced discussion about the spatial segregation, that’s completely foreign to me, I didn’t even consider that a factor until you brought it up.

What do you think of the way Moose is depicted? He’s also frustrated and unfulfilled, his “servile” aspirations seem exactly the kind of things Dan resents.

Moose ended up trying his hardest to provide for Freya, who blames him for not being more confrotational about her mother, yet he doesn’t blame the (seemingly) blameworthy ex-wife, in fact he tries hard to understand what is impossible to understand.

He also ended up trying very hard to keep his head up and survive, his laments about unsalted nuts are not even salty! I thought his self-deprication was adorable. And he did end up saving a baby, even though he himself got left behind. He brought up heroism as the siren song that he could not resist, that gave him the strength to keep pushing when survival seemed improbable.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
I went a few times in the 1990s, before the Good Friday Agreement, and it was still a pretty tense place. One pub, the Hatfield Bar in Ormeau, that I was taken to, in a Catholic area was particularly nerve wracking. I had quite short hair and an English accent and so some people assumed I must be a squaddie. The people who I was with (a lesbian couple) had to vouch for me and assure the locals I was nothing to do with the British Army. I am not sure everyone believed it though so I was quite relieved to get out of there.


message 46: by Val (last edited Jun 09, 2018 01:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments I haven't been there for about twenty years either, but the crossing points had been made less formidable by then (walls but not barbed wire everywhere). I think it was part of the initiative spearheaded by Chris Patten to try to calm things down around the time of the Good Friday Agreement. There were still soldiers, but not behaving like the ones in the book. It was quite a short visit, for a great-uncle's funeral. I don't think any of the family visited during the height of 'The Troubles', but my Dad and his brother kept in touch with their uncle.


message 47: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10635 comments Mod
Do you think the novel did the right thing in putting fictional characters into a real scenario? That is always a difficult thing to do. After all, real people died and were injured.

I will say that, even in the factual book I read, there was much about the emergency services, but the hotel staff were not mentioned at all (even though members of the Conservative party were interviewed).

I thought Moose worked, because there will always be people involved in these events who are obviously hoping this will help to improve their prospects, promotion, etc. While we may not all be involved in politics, or heroic rescues, we can all understand that and so it made the events more human and sympathetic.


message 48: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments The problem with putting fictional characters into a real scenario, or mixing fictional characters with real ones, is that it is not always clear which characters or events are fictional. I think the staff would have been mentioned if any of them were killed or seriously injured, or if any of them had been implicated in the bombing, but I had to check that none were.


Nigeyb | 10381 comments Mod
That's a good point Val. The blurred lines can result in confusion.


That said, more generally I find it a powerful way of reliving history.

Rose Tremain's magnificent Merivel for instance, or the David Peace book about the Miner's Strike etc


message 50: by Val (last edited Jun 10, 2018 03:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments The blurring of fact and fiction is not such a problem when the setting is as long ago as the C17th.
I haven't read the David Peace book, but I remember the Miner's Strike. I checked and my library does not have a copy of GB84, but does have The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumas Milne, which looks interesting.


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