Top critical review
Maybe expectations were high after High Fidelity...
on 3 April 2001
"About A Boy", Hornby's third novel after "Fever Pitch" and "High Fidelity", is a funny and entertaining book. It is about the lives of the weird 12-year-old Marcus and the 36-year-old Will, who both are lacking something to get along properly in the world.
Marcus is precocious and an outsider in his class. He wears the wrong sneakers, he listens to the wrong music (Joni Mitchell) and he has the wrong haircut. His classmates bully him because of that and his depressive mother also tries to top herself. He even thinks that Kurt Cobain plays for Manchester United. Will Freeman is a thirty-six-year-old bloke, but he behaves like a teenager. He is cool, wears trendy shirts and sneakers and also listens to Snoop Doggy Dog and Nirvana. He has no attachments, no plans for the future and no problems. Will has never worked, because of his songwriter father, who wrote the No. 1 hit "Santa's Super Sleigh" years ago. Now he lives from the royalties he gets. He is independent and his days consist of TV, music, shopping and the short-term relationships to sexy and good-looking women. Furthermore there are Fiona, Suzie (the best friend of Fiona) and Clive (Marcus' father who split up with Fiona). Fiona is Marcus' mother and as weird as her son. She's nerdy, well intentioned and has her own way of life. All in all: She doesn't make life easier for Marcus. After an affair with Angie, a single mother, Will decides to make a career with single mothers. It should be so easy for him. "Single mothers - bright, attractive, available women, thousands of them, all over London - were the best invention Will had ever heard of." He invents a new identity and finally he has a two-year-old boy called Ned. Now Will Freeman is a single father what allows him to join the SPAT (Single Parents - Alone Together). At one of the SPAT meetings he meets Marcus. And when Marcus discovers Will's little secret he blackmails Will into helping him. That's the beginning of an exceptional relationship. Marcus realizes that Will knows "things". Will is that kind of guy that Marcus needs, someone who tells him things about Kurt Cobain, who buys him the right sneakers and shows him how to act his age. But Will also profits from the relationship to Marcus, who helps him to grow up or to become acquainted with women, for example.
I think some of the characters in the novel aren't explored well enough to understand all their thinking and doing. We know Marcus' mother Fiona is depressed but we don't really know why (just because she's split up with Clive?). We also don't really know why Ellie, Marcus' best and only friend in school, takes an interest in Marcus and why she is always so angry with everyone else. The reason why Hornby called his book "About A Boy" isn't obvious at last. Perhaps it is a play on the song "About A Girl" by Nirvana, which is on their famous CD "Unplugged in New York".
I think "About A Boy" is good - nothing more, nothing less. The story sometimes seems to be constructed. Hornby even has Will meet a date in the imaginary record store from "High Fidelity", Championship Vinyl. I think the novel is written too commercial. The book has all the ingredients that are needed for market success: sex, hate, friendship and even an attempted suicide.
Finally I think the novel isn't as good as "High Fidelity"; all the same it is a good and entertaining vacation reading and I would recommend it to all who want a short and amusing read.