What’s it all about?:
The author of five novels, M Jonathan Lee is a tireless mental health awareness campaigner, working closely with organisations including Mind, Time to Change and Rethink and blogs regularly for Huffington Post. Having personally experienced anxiety and depression during his life, Jonathan draws on his experiences to inform his writing.
Richard feels trapped in his hectic life of commitment and responsibility. From the daily mayhem of having young children, an exhausted wife and pushy in-laws who frequently outstay their welcome, Richards existence fills him with panic and resentment. The only place he can escape the dark cloud descending upon him is the bathroom, where he hides for hours on end, door locked, wondering how on earth he can escape.
Often staring out of his window, Richard enviously observes the tranquil life of Bill, his neighbour living in the bungalow across the road. From the outside, Bills world appears filled with comfort and peace. Yet underneath the apparent domestic bliss of both lives are lies, secrets, imperfections, sadness and suffering far greater than either could have imagined. Beneath the surface, a family tragedy has left Bill frozen in time and unable to move on. As he waits for a daughter who may never return, Bill watches Richards bustling family life and yearns for the joy it brings. As the two men watch each other from afar, it soon becomes apparent that other peoples lives are not always what they seem.
What did I think?:
First of all, thank you so much to Charlotte Cooper and Hideaway Fall for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. This is M. Jonathan Lee’s fifth novel and I’ve only recently come across his work after loving his fourth book, Broken Branches last year. Well, I can now consider myself a fully fledged Lee fan. This novel is a fantastic read that perfectly explores the issues of depression, anxiety, feeling trapped and longing for escape. I always worry when reading a novel about mental health that it will affect me in a bad way, I’m quite sensitive to a lot of the areas explored in this story. However, I’m always proved wrong with brilliant novels like this that allowed me to fully empathise with our main character and root for better days ahead for them.
This is the story of two families – Richard, Lisa and their two children Hannah and Oscar and across the road, their neighbours, an elderly couple called Bill and Rosie. Richard is obviously struggling with mental health issues and has been for a number of years. He feels that his life has become stagnant, devoid of meaning and dreads each waking moment when he has to spend time with his wife, children or his in-laws, when he has to pretend to be a normal human being and father. Without his family’s awareness, he is planning to leave and start all over again, possibly in America where no one knows him and he can have the kind of peace he craves. He spends a lot of time staring into space, out of the window and often sees his neighbour Bill looking out too. He begins to fantasise about what it would be like to have Bill’s life, something he believes is considerably nicer than his own. However, he is in no way aware of the immense struggles that Bill and Rosie are going through in their lives themselves. The grass isn’t always greener and both men may be about to find that out for the very first time in his life as their town experiences huge snowfall and makes the feeling of entrapment feel even more intense.
I had such mixed emotions when reading this book. It was brutally honest about the daily toils of parenting and how sometimes it can all get a bit much, even for someone who has sound mental health! I’m not a parent myself so I can’t really comment on that but I have seen evidence of it in my own family and friends so am well aware of the difficulties. I really felt for Richard and for Bill and Rosie although Richard especially produced such conflicting feelings for me. I just wanted him to get help (I know, easier said than done) and when he started making serious plans for leaving and even started to put these plans into action, I just wanted to step in and stop him, shake him, give him a hug….maybe all three! This novel is truly heart-breaking in the way it makes you feel. Every time Richard becomes too anxious, the turmoil in his brain becomes too much and he has to step away from the situation I was right with him. Then there is Bill and Rosie and the suffering that they are enduring which ends in a rather distressing situation that only made the lump in my throat feel like a boulder. I won’t say any more because the beauty and agony of this book really deserves to be discovered for yourself but I can’t praise it highly enough.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with his wife, children and dog, Alfie.
His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.
His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.
His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.
In 2016, he signed for boutique publishers, Hideaway Fall and his fourth novel Broken Branches was released in July 2017, winning book of the month in Candis magazine for September.
He is a tireless campaigner for mental health awareness and writes his own column regularly for the Huffington Post. He has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe.
His fifth book, the critically acclaimed Drift Stumble Fall is released in Spring 2018.
Find M. Jonathan Lee on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6953417.M_Jonathan_Lee
on his website at: https://www.mjonathanlee.com/
on Twitter at: @mjonathanlee
Thank you once again to Charlotte Cooper and Hideaway Fall for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Drift Stumble Fall will be published on the 12th April 2018 and will be available as both a paperback and an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38350672-drift-stumble-fall