It is no exaggeration to say High Dive has already become one of my all-time favorite books.
The year is 1984. A member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army plants a bomb at Brighton, England’s Grand Hotel, timed to explode while Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet are there. The bomb goes off as planned, killing five people and seriously wounding 31 others; Thatcher, though, is unharmed. The next day, the IRA claims responsibility for the attack, vowing to try again.
Jonathan Lee’s High Dive is a fictional interpretation of the attack. It begins in 1978, when Dan is initiated into the IRA, and alternates between his perspective and those of Freya and her father, Philip “Moose” Finch. Moose is the Deputy General Manager of the Grand Hotel; Freya works for him at the front desk. Through Lee’s masterful prose, each of the three characters is not only likeable, but loveable. We are rooting for them all—even the one bent on retaliation. Lee explains this for us: When he was young, Dan watched his father killed on the street from a political attack. He’s angry. He’s broken. We get this.
Freya is charming and inquisitive. Her mother left when she was young, leaving her and Moose to form a tight-knit, loving family unit. The father-daughter relationship is at times tense and combative—he insists she go to university; she insists she doesn’t want to—but ultimately, we as readers can see and share in the deep affection they have for one another. As Moose watches his daughter, Lee writes, “There were moments when love burned up in his throat and he didn’t quite know how to move.”
It’s Moose, though, whom we root for the most. He’s funny and odd, awkward and resigned. All he ever wanted to do was become a professional diver. This dream kept him from attending college, a lack that drives his desire for Freya to continue her education. It’s his idea to court Thatcher to stay at the Grand, rather than the competing Metropole, which she visited last time. He has worked hard at this, in part spurred by the promise of a promotion if he can pull it off. Moose is optimistic, hard-working, and dedicated, and also romantically lonely.
Freya meets Dan when he checks into the hotel under the alias Roy Walsh. He’s charming and witty; there’s a playful attraction between the two. Ultimately, though, he leaves without saying goodbye, and she is left to wonder “What if?” We are, too.
Lee’s writing is brilliant and hilarious and novel. He provides a fresh perspective on so many things we take for granted. Of Dan’s breakfast preference: “Toast was the thing he loved. Slice after slice in the morning, crispy at the edges and butter-supple in the middle.”
Of Freya summarizing the hotel’s activity for her briefly hospitalized father: One guest had “finally checked out.” “As in?” asks Moose. “As in he checked out. Paid his bill. Went to Worthing.” Moose’s response: “‘Went to Worthing’ would make a pretty good metaphor, actually.”
Of the eccentric Captain’s interest in religion: “‘I am interested in fiction of all sorts,’ he said. … ‘I’ve never found much that’s fruitful in straight-laced facts. I don’t enjoy them, you know? Can’t make myself believe in them. Second-hand is what they are, they lack the raw stuff of absurdity, and people make the mistake of trying to be all-serious, as if life isn’t funny, or all-funny as if life isn’t serious.’”
Of Moose’s attempt to control his bed-crazy hair: “Great palmfuls of water were required to dampen his hair’s enthusiasm for adventure.”
It is no exaggeration to say High Dive has already become one of my all-time favorite books. Lee’s mastery, combined with likeable, wholly believable characters and a suspenseful story, makes it something you’ll look forward to every time you can grab time to read—and when it’s over, you’ll bid Freya, Moose, and Dan farewell with a heavy heart. Brilliant, brilliant book. | Laura Hamlett