The Reading Room

Reliving The Brighton Bomb

Review of Jonathan Lee’s ‘High Dive’…

highThe threat of terrorism in mainland Britain has an almost entirely different face to the one which cast its darkest shadow over the country two and more decades ago. Many will have vivid memories of bombs planted in public areas designed to and succeeded in, killing innocent people in the name of an independent Ireland. The threat was very real and ever present for anyone living in either country, far greater than that now attached to Islamic extremists.

My own recollections began somewhere in the late seventies and by the end of the Major government and the arrival of the Blair years I for one was desperate to see an end to a conflict which had seen so much bloodshed and hatred. Neither side of the political and/or military side can boast a spotless record for their conduct and actions during the troubles and whilst massive progress has been made there is still and perhaps will always be a simmering tension between two parties of the Christian divide.

In 1984 a bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England at the time of the Conservative government party conference. Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet colleagues were staying at the hotel. Five people were killed and several injured, some permanently disabled. Planted by the IRA bomber Patrick Magee who stayed at the hotel under the alias Roy Walsh it was an incredible act of terrorism which shook the country and struck at the very heart of the British government.

Thirty two years later and I am reliving moments from the event via Jonathan Lee’s book ‘High Dive’. In the book Lee set out to record the events from the perspective of three main characters; the bomber Roy Walsh, the hotel deputy manager and his teenage daughter. The book starts out promisingly with the recruitment of ‘Dan’ to the IRA. There has been a long-held belief that another man accompanied Magee on the bombing mission and Lee created ‘Dan’ as the ambitious foot soldier aspiring to more effective means of assassination.

The story moves on to the deputy manager Moose and his daughter Freya. The characters are well written and Lee is effective in creating that sense of the ordinary everyday life prior to be forever scarred by acts of terrorism. But whilst Lee is clear on the central thrust of the story line being that of these ordinary lives I found the insight too-often long winded and in need of dragging back to the inevitability of the bombing about to happen.

There are some very good moments in the book, he gets across the character of the Tory minister from that period quite brilliantly, his description of Dana and his God-fearing mother seem as accurate as one could suppose which brings me to the crux of the issue. Despite every good intention on the part of the author the simple fact is that people who live very ordinary lives are seldom remotely as interesting as those who live extraordinary ones. Yes, there have been a million books written about terrorists, but if you are to write of ordinary lives there must be something to keep the reader occupied. In this case it was of course, the expectation of the bomb blast and the immediate aftermath, but as the pages turned it became increasingly apparent that this would come as a sudden end to the story, which for me, makes the book poorer as a result.

The book is heavy on backstory and even the bombing is interrupted for Dan’s own house being firebombed. We already know Moose’s ambition of running a top hotel are slim to impossible even before the long-winded account of his heart attack. It’s a brave effort and in the most part it works well, Lee has trodden a tricky path and for the best part has managed to stay on track.

Categories: The Reading Room

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