Review: Suicide Thursday

Will Carver – Suicide Thursday (Blog Tour)

Author Will Carver

Published by Orenda Books, paperback £9.99, also available in ebook. You can buy books direct from Orenda via the website:
I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

I’m not much of a believer in trigger warnings, but this warrants one: This novel, and this review of it, contain references to suicide, so think carefully before reading. You can reach Samaritans 24/7:

First, the official blurb: Eli Hagin can’t finish anything. He hates his job, but can’t seem to quit. He doesn’t want to be with his girlfriend, but doesn’t know how end things with her, either. Eli wants to write a novel, but he’s never taken a story beyond the first chapter. Eli also has trouble separating reality from fiction. When his best friend kills himself, Eli is motivated, for the first time in his life, to finally end something himself, just as Mike did… Except sessions with his therapist suggest that Eli’s most recent ‘first chapters’ are not as fictitious as he had intended … and a series of text messages that Mike received before his death point to something much, much darker…

In trying to describe Will Carver’s novels for Orenda, I frequently say he has “a singular imagination” – meaning simply that I’ve never read anything like them (see my review of The Beresford – and my Five By Five interview with Will, too). They are all but impossible to describe without giving spoilers, and I usually end up saying to people: “Just read one, you’ll see what I mean!” Since the astonishing Good Samaritans, his first for Orenda in 2018, there have been five more books pushing at the boundaries of crime fiction. Now comes Suicide Thursday.

There is no shying away from the central premise of the book, and it opens with a description of a man’s death – though it’s not what it first appears to be. It says on the first page, “It’s easy to focus on the wrong thing, miss what’s important, what’s right in front of you”, a reference to the characters, but also a reminder that Carver can be like a magician in his use of misdirection, persuading you he has nothing up his sleeve then producing a bouquet from thin air. 

Eli works in the marketing department of a tech company and hates his job. He writes endless first chapters of novels and never gets any further, so his best friend Mike writes a blurb for what the book should be, and Eli sells them. He’s also desperate to break up with his girlfriend, Jackie, who is obsessed with going to confession – and who is a lot more perceptive than Eli gives her credit for. 

There are secrets and lies, failures to tell the whole truth (or indeed any of it), and sometimes a bit more truth than anyone wants to hear. The chapters are short and snappy, moving around the three points of view, and the timeline shifts between before and after the day Mike’s body is found, and before and after his funeral, which both keeps us slightly unsettled and also gives an idea of the confusion of grief. Text message conversations punctuate the chapters, supportive, encouraging and deeply unsettling – who would talk to a friend like this? And then there are the texts that continue to ping to Mike’s phone after he has died…

Eli and Jackie are badly affected by Mike’s death, and seek answers as to why he did it – a natural reaction, though the answers frequently remain unknown in real life. I was expecting something more explosive, more shocking, but flashy twists, arch comments and knowing reveals are mostly absent, in favour of other ideas and a portrait of the confusion of grief, and finding ways to cope when we all grieve differently.

I really like the way Carver captures the banalities of everyday life – the small actions we do almost on autopilot; the endless cycle of work-dinner-pub with the same people, nothing new to talk about. And I think these great swathes of reality make it possible for him to create the plots that both fit these settings so perfectly and simultaneously make the reader go “hang on a minute…”. This is seen to jaw-dropping effect in Good Samaritans, and shifts to suit each novel. Carver doesn’t gloss over the little details; these are what he wants to focus on because they are the reality we all share – the “real” real world, rather than the curated reality seen in most fiction.

In the UK, around three times as many men as women take their own life every year. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Family and friends are often left with feelings of “If only I’d done… said… known…” to deal with as well as their grief. Suicide is desperately difficult to deal with for those left behind, but Carver has – while wrapping the story around with just enough jeopardy, reality and sharp but beautiful writing – delivered a thoughtful exploration of the subject that doesn’t shy away from the pain and incomprehension of those left behind while also suggesting perhaps why Mike made the choices he did. 

If this all sounds terribly grim, I promise you it’s not – there are still moments of Carver’s signature offbeat, often dark, humour – Eli’s first chapters, his therapist conversations, his work thoughts – and I defy you not to laugh out loud at moments such as Jackie’s cat’s thoughts or Eli’s work days. There are also some little Easter eggs for those who’ve read the previous books in the Carver-verse. And, finally, Eli finds a way to move forward with Jackie, to move on from the job he despises, and literally move on to Chapter Two in his writing. Overall, Suicide Thursday is an enjoyable read that is to be hugely thoughtful at the same time.

Once again Carver has given us a novel that is almost impossible to review. But his singular imagination has given us a book that I think is hugely important, and while it may pain some to read it, I think may bring a measure of comfort to others. 

From the title and from my previous reading, I started this book expecting twists and reveals, cunning dialogue, and quietly despairing rage. What we have is so much plainer and simpler, but the power is in the playing it straight for the most part; having the knowledge and courage to leave some questions frustratingly unanswered while offering a path forwards elsewhere.

Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK aged 11, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children. Will’s first title for Orenda Books, Good Samaritans, was book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts. Hinton Hollow Death Trip was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize, while Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Good Samaritans was book of the year in the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts. Orenda Books has also published The Beresford, Psychopaths Anonymous and The Daves Next Door.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @will_carver

Don’t forget to check out all the other reviews on the blog tour!

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