Book review: Taking the plunge into Jonathan Lee’s High Dive

Today I couldn’t resist reading Jonathan Lee’s High Dive until I’d finished every word, including the Afterword and the Acknowledgements. Seventy pages or so. Yeah, I was completely immersed in that book—didn’t take a look out the window, or a break to put my laundry in the dryer; ignored my computer, my phone, and my rumbling stomach telling me it was dinnertime.


You can see from the photo that I got this book from the library. [Aside: libraries, to me, are the most wonderful institution of civilization—and how else could I afford all the books I read and avoid getting buried in accumulated books?]

But this time it’s too bad it’s a library book. I’m going to have to buy High Dive, because I have to read it again. This time I’ll underline all the phrases and sentences that delighted me—blew me away—made me think, “Jonathan Lee is a genius writer.”

I have this compulsion to write book reviews (see below), but no time. Yet High Dive deserves a book review. Maybe a mini-review will do? Here goes:

What’s it about?

An IRA attempt to assassinate British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher while she’s in a hotel at a convention in Brighton. The book is based on the actual 1984 event, but the three main characters—the explosives expert, the hotel manager, and his daughter, are fictional creations.

Why should you read it?

  • It’s a damn good story, suspenseful, shifting point-of-views. It has a heroic act at the end, though the hero—(cut—no spoilers).
  • The characters seem real—complicated, confused, messed-up yet lovable. Lee shows immense psychological insight.
  • It’s thought-provoking. There are no easy answers about the morality of IRA violence and its causes.
  • Read it, above all, for Jonathan Lee’s genius-level writing. When I mark up my own copy I’ll be able to add ten or a hundred of my favourite sentences to this review. But most can only be fully appreciated in context.

Here’s just one taste—a description of a thoroughly unlikeable Security man.

Peterson’s smile was pure hygiene, the expression of a guy about to floss. The teeth were big. The mouth couldn’t quite hold them. It was a miracle the lips didn’t bleed. There was saliva pooling on his gums and shining on his bottom lip and when he closed his mouth to swallow there was a faint, squeaky sucking sound, like a cloth being used to polish cutlery. (p. 285)

What’s a fun way to find out more about High Dive and Jonathan Lee?

Listen to the peerless Eleanor Wachtel interview Lee on the Writers & Company podcast here.



My book reviews

In my dream world, a world where I miraculously have no need to make money, I would write a book review of every worthy book I read. I love the idea of having a book blog so interactive it’s like an old-fashioned literary salon, but online. I would so enjoy hearing other people’s reactions to books that I think are wonderful, or controversial, or puzzling. The analysis of books is one window into another person’s mind.

In the real world, I seldom have time to write book reviews. Yet still—I have this compulsive longing to write them. Why?

  • It’s because I admire—worship—writers who have the talent to put words together in ways that are clever, or unexpected, or right on. Whose words make music in my head or when I read them out loud.
  • It’s my desire to stay in the book’s imaginary world, with its characters that I’ve come to feel I know intimately.
  • It’s my desire to remember—and hold on to—what I have learned or felt. The discoveries given to me by a great book seem so significant. But despite what I vow to myself while reading, how do I hold on to that book’s impact? How do I make the cliché “It will change your life!” come true?


Quote from:

High Dive. © 2015 by Jonathan Lee. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
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