Book Review: A Long Way down, by Nick Hornby

After a few, um, technical problems, a little book review that I've written meanwhile:

Nick Hornby's quadruple I-narration A Long Way Down deals with four strangers who meet on the roof of the "Toppers' House", a popular London suicide spot, on new year's eve: Martin, a TV presenter whose carrer is in tatters after he was convicted of sleeping with a fifteen-year-old who told him she was eighteen (at least if we're to believe him); middle-aged conservative woman Maureen who suffers from loneliness, unemployment and having to care for a severely disabled son; foul-mouthed teenager Jess who got dumped by the first boy she ever slept with; and JJ who looks at another fourty years of delivering pizza after his band split up. They decide to reconsider things and see if they still feel like committing suicide on Valentine's day. I'm not giving away too much by telling you that everything will turn out just fine (otherwise no I-narration, eh?).

So, is it any good? "Hornby's best novel to date", trumpets Ruth Rendell, writing in the Guardian, as quoted on the backcover of my Penguin paperback edition. However, the Guardian does not exactly bolster its credibility in matters literary by also being quoted, just a few centimetres down on the same backcover: "Hornby pins down the age in which we live with precision and comic brillance." That's just utter nonsense. No matter whether you like it, it just isn't that kind of book. I can assure you that Hornby did not sit down at his desk and said to himself: "With this one, I'm going to pin down the age in which we live. With precision. And I'll throw in a bit of comic brillance for good measure." That's the kind of thing Tom Wolfe would say. (In fact, he does say something similar in his introduction to The Bonfire of the Vanities, and if memory serves, he said about A Man in Full: "I tried to write a book about everything.")

The book is nowhere near Hornby's best. It is a good, easy read, funny at times, clearly written by someone with a heart; the kind of book you can take down to the beach (its gloomy-sounding subject notwithstanding). If you liked Hornby's other books, you're going to like this one, provided your expectations aren't sky-high. If you've never read anything by Hornby, go instead for either Fever Pitch (autobiographical; topic: "When will I ever take my relationships and my carreer more seriously than a second-round Coca-Cola cup tie against Brimsby?") or High Fidelity (novel; topic: "When will I ever take my relationships and my carreer more seriously than Marvin Gaye white labels?"). These are the books that Hornby had to write in the sense that Salinger had to write The Catcher in the Rye but not, say, Franny and Zooey. His other books he wrote because, well, that's his job.

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