One New Year’s Eve Jack meets Elsa and they get together. Life seems to be looking up when Jack gets a coveted job on the Golden Gate Bridge and they board the plane to San Francisco full of hope and happiness. Jack is prepared to bed in and get to know his colleagues while Elsa is on a tourist visa so she is free to explore the city, make friends and keep house. An optional extra to Jack’s new job is to be on call for the ‘jumpers’, those men and women who have decided that leaping from the bridge is their only option.
So there’s the premise and from here on in the book twists and turns, meandering from one episode to the next from both Jack and Elsa’s past and the reader gets a glimpse of why their romance fades in the shadow of one particular jumper.
I found this book quite confusing with the snapshots from one awful, depressing experience to the next with the absence of hope all-pervading from early on. The present offers no relief with Jack soon socialising with his new workmates while Elsa’s main source of company is the elderly woman next door who babysits her young grandchildren. With scant meaningful relationships to reflect the protagonist’s characters they are viewed in isolation presumably a device used to reflect both characters inner feelings.
The author does manage to paint a picture of San Francisco that felt authentic and I was easily able to imagine Elsa’s delight as in the first heady weeks after moving across the Atlantic from England as she explored her new home. The house that Jack had inherited was also easy to visualise thanks to a light but deft touch of the author’s writing.
On one level this story illustrates how you can’t escape from a past you haven’t confronted, Jack has moved around during his life escaping one disaster and soon replacing it with another and he is clearly haunted by his past but he never talks to Elsa, not willing to discuss previous relationships or any of the other important relationships in his life. Elsa meanwhile has used San Francisco to bury her past and is equally unwilling to share anything of any merit with Jack. On another level it is about the present, I can only vaguely imagine how hard it must be to confront the level of despair that would cause someone to jump from the bridge and it clearly causes lasting damage to Jack.
At least with Jack there are relationships with his colleagues that feel authentic if not particularly supportive but I wasn’t convinced by Elsa’s relationship albeit long-distance with her mother or her sister. I was also quite confused about what the relationship with the elderly neighbour was supposed to be illustrating as the interaction between the two seemed quite superficial even when Elsa started helping out with the children.
All in all I found this a depressing read, not that I expected a light read from the synopsis but this level of misery was hard to bear when stretched over more than 450 pages and from a reader who usually enjoys flashbacks in books, this just added to my frustration as with both characters pasts being told in this manner I just found it confusing as episodes were told without ever quite joining up leaving me with the constant feeling that I’d missed bits, and maybe I had as I finished this book unsatisfied.
I’d like to thank the publishers Random House UK for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest opinion. Lay Me Down is due to be published on 19 February 2015.