BLOG TOUR: Surviving Me – Jo Johnson

DISCLAIMER – I was sent a free copy of this book in return for a fair and unbiased review
(Trigger warning: discussion of suicide)

‘Marilyn is tapping on the glass, begging me to come out.’

surviving meTom has decided he doesn’t want to live. Adam wishes he had a choice.
Tom’s lost his job and now he’s been labelled ‘spermless’. He doesn’t exactly feel like a modern man, although his double life helps. Yet when his secret identity threatens to unravel, he starts to lose the plot and comes perilously close to the edge.
All the while Adam has his own duplicity, albeit for very different reasons, reasons which will blow the family’s future out of the water.
If they can’t be honest with themselves, and everyone else, then things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

Links to buy:

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

What I thought

I really enjoyed this one in a way I wasn’t expecting to. I’m normally a genre reader and have recently got back into epic fantasy and this is almost as far away from that as you can get. Even though I’m not normally a reader of general contemporary fiction this one continued to keep my interest all of the way through. I think this is because it’s a complete character piece and I liked and sympathised with all of the characters (apart from Adam’s wife).

With mental health more in the social awareness right now, I’ve seen lots of books about it but not really looking at a man’s POV. As a society we are more aware that suicide is the 2nd biggest killer for men in their 30’s and 40’s but I’ve not read much fiction on it.
This book looks at how you can reach that complete low and how you can rationalise suicide until it becomes the only viable option ahead of you. Because you can see Tom’s logic at every step. It might be faulty logic but you can see why he makes it, which is difficult to write and was done brilliantly here.
I think almost the worst and most realistic thing in his entire break down is the reason that he doesn’t jump. It’s not because someone managed to change his mind and make him realise that life was worth it and things would be better. It’s because he was told most people fail and end up disabled and with the need for constant support. He wants to jump because he wants to stop being a burden on his wife (Siri) and the idea of failing in his suicide attempt and turning her into his carer and becoming more of a burden. Stopping someone from committing suicide isn’t often about appealing to hope it’s about trying to be as logical as possible in pointing out why it would be a bad idea and the flawed logic that led them to this point.
While reading this book I could tell that the author had a history in mental health – whether as a patient or as a doctor; after reading the author bio I discovered that she was a mental health professional. That experience rings throughout the book as it deals with a sensitive subject in a caring but realistic manner

This story is one of two halfs. The fast half deals with what I have already discussed how you reach absolute bottom. But the second half deals with how you learn to build yourself back up again and make sense of the white noise that has become your life. That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be set backs and issues while you’re building youself back up, and Tom does face issues in relation to his family’s health (and his brother-in-law Adam in particular). But he starts communicating with Siri more and learns how to deal with those issues rather than hiding himself away.
I don’t think this book would have worked if the second half wasn’t as strong as it is. It’s one thing writing about hitting rock bottom but another to show how to get back up after. Both parts are dealt with well and are just as important as each other in fairly representing what it’s like to have a break down. Tom doesn’t have depression, it’s not a big black cloud following him around everywhere he goes and something he’ll have to be on medication for forever. He has a depressive episode that lasts a few months, which isn’t the same.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not often you see a book like this where it’s the women who are the supporting cast. It felt like it was aimed at woman to try and help them understand how a man can reach that point. Statistically women are more likely to talk and therefore it doesn’t get to that attempting suicide. So much of the discussion around mental health is about talking to each other, which is fine if you have a group of friends that you can talk to like that but a lot of middle aged men don’t. When they were growing up they were told they didn’t need a support group in the way that women do, so opening up and talking isn’t thought of in the same way, which is why suicide is such a killer. (Obviously I’m not saying women can’t die by suicide but it is a bigger killer for men.) Even the front cover is in traditional feminine colours and not done in a way to stand out to the male reader. Again I’m talking in general terms and being very stereotypical but it is less likely that men will pick up a book with a pale pink cover. That’s not to say men won’t enjoy this book but I do think it was aimed to try and make women realise just why suicide is such a big killer to middle aged men and to sympathise with them more. There’s a lot of talk out there about suicide being selfish, it’s true that the consequences impact the friends and family rather than the victim (apart from the whole being dead thing being a fairly big impact). But when you reach that point it’s often not about stopping your own suffering, it’s about making it easier for the people around you. You convince yourself that things would be better without you, Tom is completely certain that Siri’s life would be better without him in it as it’s him whose infertile; without him she can meet someone else and have the baby that she desperately wants. Her 5 year plan can be put back into action and with someone more on her level and not with a salesmen who doesn’t have a job any more. He truly thinks that killing himself will make Siri’s future a better one, it’s uniquely selfless but also completely blinded because you are unable to see any other option or look at the scenario without seeing yourself as the Big Bad and The Problem.

Why I read it

I was interested in taking part in this blog tour because I’m trying to vary my reading and the idea of a book that looks at the mental health of middle aged men stood out because it’s something that still isn’t talked about. Even though a lot more people are aware of how suicide is the second biggest killer for men in their 30’s and 40’s.

Final thought

I found this book really enjoyable and most of the characters likeable (basically everyone apart from Adam’s wife and Tom’s ‘family’, but I’m not supposed to like them so that’s fine.) I’ve already suggested this one to my mum and I think people who enjoy contemporary general fiction would enjoy this one.

There’s a lot in this book that I haven’t touched upon; Tom driving for over an hour to spend his days hiding in a cafe where no one would recognise him, affairs, infertility, adoption, and Huntington’s disease just to name a few. However I felt it was important to focus on Tom and his situation in my review. But all other ‘issues’ are dealt with just as well and in a sensitive manner.

Am I glad I read it? Yes
Did I enjoy it? Yes
Would I read again? Maybe. I enjoyed it but I don’t know if I feel the need to read again.
Would I recommend? I’ve already recommended this one to my mum, she’s a fan of character driven stories with intermingling plots

Author Bio

“I’m very excited that my debut novel ‘Surviving Me’ is due to be published on the 14 November. The novel is about male minds and what pushes a regular man to the edge. The novel combines all the themes I can write about with authenticity.
I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1992 and initially worked with people with learning disabilities before moving into the field of neurology in 1996. I worked in the NHS until 2008 when I left to write and explore new projects.
I now work as an independent clinical psychologist in West Sussex.”

Jo speaks and writes for several national neurology charities including Headway and the MS Trust. Client and family related publications include, “Talking to your kids about MS”, “My mum makes the best cakes” and “Shrinking the Smirch”.
In the last few years Jo has been offering psychological intervention using the acceptance and commitment therapeutic model (ACT) which is the most up to date version of CBT. She is now using THE ACT model in a range of organisations such as the police to help employees protect their minds in order to avoid symptoms of stress and work related burnout.

 

As always thank you to Rachel for organising this blog tour and to the author for trusting me with their book.

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