Leap by Myfanwy Jones
Review copy provided by publisher
Allen & Unwin, May 2015
Synopsis- A few weeks after finishing their final exams high school sweethearts have an argument at a party. Joe wants to go – Jen begs him to stay. They fight in the corridor, following their usual script, and then he walks out and leaves her. A few hours later she dies.
Three years on, after burning up his own dreams for the future, Joe is working in dead-end jobs and mentoring a wayward teenager not dissimilar from his younger self. Driven by the need to make good, he spends all his spare time doing parkour under an inner-city bridge, training his mind and body to conquer the hostile urban environment that took his love and blighted his future.
Somewhere else, a middle-aged woman, Elise, is treading water in her life as her marriage breaks up. We watch as she retreats to the only place that holds any meaning for her – the tiger enclosure at Melbourne Zoo, where, for reasons she barely understands, she starts painting the tigers and forms a close connection to them.
Joe is broken by grief, but the outside world won’t let him hide forever. A cool and bewitching girl turns up on the doorstep of his share house, somehow painfully familiar to him. Then there is the skateboarding chef at the bar where he works, the girl with the Cossack-blue eyes, who wants to be his friend. And someone going by the Facebook tag Emily Dickinson wants to reminisce about his dead girlfriend and won’t leave him alone.
Can Joe staunch the flooding return of desire – or is it time to let go of the past? And will he make the nine-foot leap from girder to pillar or does he want to fall too?
While at its heart is a searing absence, Leap is driven by an unstoppable and exhilarating life force, and the eternally hopeful promise of redemptive love. Funny, moving, quirky and original, Leap is an effortlessly enjoyable novel that quietly creeps up on you until its final jaw-dropping pages and a narrative twist that will take your breath away.
Review- This book turned up unexpectedly and I was very close to dismissing it due to other reading commitments. But when I saw that it was by an Australian author and it was a relatively short novel I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!
I was drawn into this story almost immediately. Written in first POV of Joe, a young man in his 20’s who is just drifting through life. He works two jobs, shares a house with a couple of mates and has the intriguing hobby of ‘jumping’ at all hours of the morning and night. He builds up his strength and endurance and pushes his body to the limits.
When a young nurse answers an ad for a spare room at the share house, there’s an instant attraction between them. Joe finds himself being challenged emotionally and psychologically as their relationship develops only in the darkness of the night. Meanwhile, he develops a deeper friendship with colleague Lena who he starts to share his story with. Joe is an interesting character with many strengths and flaws. He is grieving the loss of his ex-girlfriend, wracked with guilt and struggling to find a way to move forward- or whether he has any desire to do so. He’s been punishing himself for years.
The parallel story with the POV of newly separated mother Elise who has a secret, she likes to study the tigers at the local zoo. Every week at the same day and time she sits and watches, draws them and fantasises about their inner world. This connection allows her to understand her own grief and loss and find a way to get her relationship back on track with her husband. The connection between Joe and Elise isn’t revealed until much later in the story.
What I found so mesmerising about this story, was the sharp writing style, often abrupt and to the point. There’s no fluff in this book, every word and sentence serves a purpose. I liked that and it made the story flow and intrigued me to turn the pages faster. Though Leap is passable as a YA novel (or new age?), the contrasting story with Elise prevents it from falling into this genre. Leap is a character-driven novel, uniquely structured and written and trusts that the reader is smart enough to figure out the messages that lie beneath the text. I’d definitely recommend this novel.
“I loved this book!”
Leap can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers
This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:
Book #13 reviewed