Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thatcher Almost Gets It: Jonathan Lee’s “High Dive”

It takes imagination and daring to write a comic novel about the IRA’s attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher when she was staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, in 1986, attending a conference with most of her cabinet. A bomb went off and five people lost their lives, but not Britain’s Prime Minister’s. The fact is that other serious (almost taboo) subjects have been satirized in the past: the Holocaust, in Martin Amis’s Times Arrow, and slavery in Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson. True, Margaret Thatcher does not conjure up the painfulness that most people have for slavery and the Holocaust. Nor do I believe that the mixture in Jonathan Lee’s High Dive is as successful as it is in those other two works. Still, satire, being satire, has few—if any—limits.

In a note at the end of the novel, Lee clarifies what is fact about the assignation attempt (at least as much as is known, and there is still some dispute about that) and his creation of the imaginary figures who propel his story. As he observes, “There are large gaps in what is known about the bombing of the Grand Hotel and I have tried, over the last few years, to imagine myself into those gaps.” Well said and, indeed, his three imaginary figures are quite convincing. The first is a young man whose name is Dan, who was indoctrinated into the IRA when he was still in his teens. The other two are the supposed Deputy General Manager of the hotel, nicknamed Moose, and his daughter, Freya. Thus, two insiders who supposedly worked at the hotel compete with the outsider, who plants the bomb, for the centrality of the story. The insiders are more convincing. Dan remains a bit of a shadow figure, perhaps as his role requires.

Moose is 45 and separated from his wife. Freya is 18. Moose hopes that if Thatcher’s visit to the hotel is seamless that he will be promoted, moved to a more important hotel. Freya, who works at the front desk, isn’t exactly certain what she wants, but most likely higher education. She’s conflicted about her loyalties, particularly about her father, and for a brief time implies highdivethat she will help one of her girlfriends explode a stink bomb while the Prime Minister is at the hotel. That friend explains her reasoning after Freya asks why the prank is so important: “The government? The Prime Minister? The way this country is going? The unemployment and the money wasted on sham wars and the massive divide between rich and poor and all the fancy people in London and then people without any food up north and striking miners and the total lack of interest in trying to soothe the radical tensions in our community, or solve unemployment.” Besides the issue of Northern Ireland, there’s definitely a class war described in the novel, some of which reads as if were a commentary about the United States today.

The comic propels much of the narrative in lots of witty remarks (“Sometime during the last year her mother had lost a personal pronoun”), the novel’s often-irreverent tone, and the glib narrative voice of at least one of the central characters:

Dan. Plus the puns, such as “No man is an Ireland,” which take on new meaning given the political situation involving the IRA’s uprising. Sometimes, the humor is an inserted vignette, with little to do with the plot but, instead, a clever reflection on the speaker. Here’s one particularly goofy incident, involving a dog-sitter, who discovers that the pooch he is dog-sitting for a German couple, unexpectedly lies, and—since he owns no vehicle—he has to take the dog to the pet cemetery by using the subway:

“He was going to put the dog in its custom-made wicker dog basket. But what if the kids wanted to say hi, what if the kids on the Tube tried to pet the dead dog through the bars? That would badly suck. ‘That was my reasoning.’” So he thought he’d better not; a suitcase would be better. “He took the suitcase on the London Underground. At Hammersmith the lift wasn’t working, so he began to lug the dog-filled suitcase up the stairs. An absolutely massive bald guy said, Let me give you a hand with that, son. No, no, I’m fine, John said. But the bald guy insisted: I’ll take it ten steps and then you can take it ten; it’ll be a workout, mate. And then the bald guy took the suitcase and ran off with it.”

I frequently chucked out loud as I read Jonathan Lee’s High Dive, but I didn’t think that the swimming (and the high driving board) metaphor played out through much of the story was that convincing. Moose swims, as does his daughter and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, who narrates the passage about the dead dog. Then there’s the comic juxtaposed to the planning for the bombing of the hotel, and the somewhat elliptical ending that doesn’t tie everything in the narrative together as I would have liked. Still, Lee’s comic voice(s) are often a delight; hopefully, he will write a truly comic novel next time.

Jonathan Lee: High Dive

Knopf, 336 pp., $25.95

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail