Jonathan Lee’s new novel “High Dive” reimagines the weeks leading up to the Grand Hotel bombing on Oct. 12, 1984.
Splitting time between Brighton, England, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, Lee focuses the attention not on Margaret Thatcher, the intended target of the attack, nor other political figures at the Conservative Party Conference, but on the lives of three individuals.
The narrative opens with Dan’s initiation into the Irish Republican Army. Lee creates a powerful scene as Dan struggles to follow orders and shoot a dog or be killed himself.
Dan later gets selected to plant the bomb at the Grand in hopes of ending “The Troubles” and bring about peace. Dan’s superior explains that killing Thatcher will “show the mainland’s not secure. It’s almost more effective. A symbol’s a symbol.”
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Running parallel is the story of the Grand’s deputy general manager Philip “Moose” Finch and his 18-year-old daughter Freya.
Moose considers the hotel “one of the loves of his life” and aspires to be the general manager when his boss steps down. He worked hard to convince Thatcher to stay at the Grand and stresses over preparations for the prime minister’s stay, ultimately leading to health complications.
Freya, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what to do with her life as she works as the hotel’s receptionist, deals with her mother who ran off with another man, and juggles a relationship with a dim-witted pretty boy.
The plot alone could have made for a wonderful thriller, but Lee navigates the novel away from that trope and tells the stories of ordinary people. He successfully adds an intricate depth to every character, from the maids to the public relations coordinator to IRA members. Every character feels fully realized; the ensemble has the most individualized identities of any group I’ve read in the past few years.
Lee also has a talent for creating a dichotomy and blurring them together through a common idea. He finds a beautiful connection of martyrdom between Bobby Sands — IRA member and prisoner who died in a hunger strike — and Margaret Thatcher, the antithesis to Sands. The connection shows a great insight into the two conflicting sides and reveals the writer’s talent.
“High Dive” by Jonathan Lee (336 Pages; Knopf; $25.95)