At its heart The Leaping is a novel of relationships, and of individuals intertwined together as they make their way through the melancholy and bittersweet paths of early adult life. The focus is on several friends who live together and all work at the same call-centre in Manchester, as they experience the fun and frustrations afforded by their environment.
Work is dull, the atmosphere and duties vacuous, but bills must be paid after all, and the group of friends compensate for a hard day at the office by enjoying good company over numerous shared activities. Be it a night out on the town, a team game of Mario Kart, joint bemusement at the quirky behaviours of others in their clique, there is a solid support foundation should any of them need it.
Told from the first person perspective of different members of the group, but primarily of male leads Jack and Francis, the novel spends a fair amount of time grounding us in the lives of its charges. Fletcher does a great job of setting the scene and explaining the individual dynamics of the composite group members. Each is more fully fleshed out through anecdotes from other characters, who also share their own thoughts and worries, and also through the identity ascribed them by their own tastes in films, books, music and games.
They’re a likeable bunch, easily identifiable for anyone who has lived in student or shared accommodation – it’s relatable, friendly, and warm. But that’s not to say the individuals don’t have problems. Francis’ Dad is quite ill, and he himself has a few issues mildly bordering at times on the obsessive compulsive. Then there’s the strange case of Kenny, a senior figure at the call centre, who seems to have a disorder or two lurking, and around who several mysteries spring up early in the novel.
Queue free-spirited and gorgeous Jennifer, newcomer to the group via romantic interest of Jack, who is quitting her job at the call centre, and who has plans to break out from the dull monotony of her life as she currently sees it. A trip to take Francis home to his parents sees Jack and Jennifer pass through a small village of the Lake District and here Jennifer falls for a house, buying it immediately with an inheritance and soon settling down with Jack.
As the couple settle into an open relationship, one more to Jennifer’s desire than to Jack’s, the novel takes a more serious turn; the mysteries of the house and dales, and of Jennifer’s behaviours, begin to play on Jack. A party at the house is planned and launched and soon everyone is back together with a chance to catch up, but a more austere shadow seems to have fallen upon the group, on personal as well as external levels, and soon the very foundations of the clique’s dynamic comes under a maelstrom of unpredicted chaos.
It is here in the countryside, in the raw of nature that Fletcher’s strengths come to the fore. He writes of the dales and cold, beautiful landscape with a refined sense of purpose, injecting the book with a solid backbone upon which the final scenes of the book play out. And what an ending too. The final chapters of the book see the action hot up considerably, a stark contrast to the mellow pace of the first half of the book. Here elements of plot are injected that show considerable forethought and planning – there is a rich world here for the taking, and a nice amount of groundwork has been laid that give the subject matter sound treatment.
Tom Fletcher’s debut novel is an enjoyable and at times powerful read, and the first person narrative works well. It gives a good sense of the characters, their honest relationships, and also manages to build a unique perspective on the rising dread when it had occasion to near the surface, or later on breach it. The story being weaved here is fresh and the author’s take on the horror novel, and on the subject matter of werewolves, a brave and adventurous one with a sense of style to separate it from the crowd. Read The Leaping and be impressed.