Surviving Michael by Joseph Birchall
Published in 2015
Book 10 in my January Kindle Challenge
On a hot summer’s day, after their final school exams, five boys begin a game of dares in which one of them, Michael, will not survive. Fifteen years later, his four friends, Nick, Charlie, Danny and Liam, now in their thirties, have yet to truly come to terms with what happened that day.
Then on the anniversary of Michael’s death, they begin the game of dares again. Only this time the dares are bolder, and the consequences more severe. Over one weekend, their game spirals out of control, and forces them, for the first time, to deal with the guilt of surviving Michael.
Surviving Michael is a gritty, poignant, dark but often funny, coming of age story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
Set in Dublin, we meet five friends when they are 18 and a dare goes wrong, leaving just four boys to tell the tale. Moving forward 15 years, the four are now men but all have their own problems and have never really come to terms with the tragedy from their past. As I was reading this, it started to feel like a watered-down version of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. The main characters are all male, all a bit lost and hopeless in their own ways and use a fair bit of x-rated language.
I quite enjoyed this book to begin with. I liked finding out what had happened to each of the four friends – they each narrate sections along with Danny’s girlfriend Ruby – and some of the banter between them was enjoyable. The story was developing nicely I thought, with a few interesting sub-plots. The characters were interesting and the fact they had all been deeply affected by the events from their past – but had never really spoken to each other about it – set the story up nicely. But then just over halfway through the men begin a series of dares, and I found I had to suspend my disbelief as the book became increasingly over-the-top and unbelievable.
Despite this, I did enjoy the end of the book, and I felt that overall this novel would have worked better if some of the full-on crazy bits had been removed. The ending would have had more impact if there hadn’t been so much over-the-top action had been preceding it. I also did find the voices of the four narrators were too similar at times and made it confusing at times to remember whose section you were reading.