on 11 February 2007
It is perhaps no surprise that this book has garnered such diverse scorings on Amazon and similar sites. Those who give it a low score tend to attribute this to the fact that thay cannot "identify with" most or all of the characters, and those who praise it seem to focus on Hornby's ability to portray different character viewpoints and the cleverness of the conceit.
Neither of these viewpoints is wrong. If you read a book hoping to identify and sympathise with a character, then you are bound to feel alienated from at least three of the protagonists - it's more than possible that you will not identify with any of them.
On the other hand, if you are looking for literery conceipt and the ability to switch between viewpoints, you will find it here in abundance. Pay your money and take your choice.
Trying to steer between the two stools is difficult. The multi-person narrative is a device that allows the author to flash a few of his skills, but ultimately is does make it difficult to care about any of the main protagonists in particular. Given that the central plot drive is "will they or will they not sort their lives out?" this is a serious flaw, but not fatal, as the characters and their voices are at least believable. I am also heartened that Hornby didn't try and create some unbelievably sugary ending that tied everyone's lives up in a happy ending that so rarely occurs, and that I still feel that each of the characters has a life oustide of the book that I wish to explore in more detail.
To me it's a clever little tale that never quite pays off, but which is at least not predictable and does remain in the memory
on 20 July 2006
Thought provoking novel about four strangers who find themselves on the roof of a block of flats on New Years Eve. Rather than jumping from this notorious suicide spot, they all come down and form a sort of informal self-help group as they try to rebuild their lives. The four - a disgraced TV presenter, tragically sad middle-aged single mother who has devoted her life to her disabled son, failed rock star and fowl-mouthed teen - have little in common but form an unspoken bond.
Hornby's novel is excellent in that it is moving at times and offers some hope without lapsing into sentimentality - everything is not resolved at the end. Bringing up plenty of other thought provoking issues as it proceeds, it is a real page-turner. The flow is aided by its format with each of the four telling the story in turn for a few pages at a time. Very effective as is the whole story. A superb novel.
on 14 July 2005
Calling this book a let down is probably a little unfair. Indeed had it been written by someone else, I'd probably have given it 4 stars but you see when standards are as high as Hornby has set in the past, this just does not live upto them. If High Fidelity is worth 5 stars (and it is), then About A Boy which is not quite as good must only be worth four and as this is not quite as good as About A Boy........
Still, not to do it down, like all of his books, the characters are well developed and you feel some affection for all of them (even the most ghastly of the main characters). As other reviewers will have said, the book is about four people who all meet up at a suicide hotspot and end up forming a group to look out for each other. The neat trick of the book is that it is writted by each of the four characters changing throughout, though the story still reads sequentially (so one person might write about an action they are taking, another will write about the consequences). It's a novel idea and I have to say works extremely well.
Having never been suicidal I can't vouch for the authenticity of the emotions the characters are feeling, though they are very believable. I'd recommend this book certainly to Hornby fans, but if you have not read any of his books, I'd start with High Fidelity before this.
on 22 November 2010
I found this an easy read and I must admit I was compelled for the first half of the book; the characters seemed interesting, and Hornby seemed to have created good psychological profiles for each. However, as the book got on I found it dragged, despite being a relatively short read, and the characters ended up becoming grating and annoying with omission to Martin and Maureen god love her.
I'm aware that Hornby was trying to get into the mindset of each character hence the writing style, but to be quite frank I found it "low- brow" and I know that sounds pompous but an author should use his words, I didn't find much charm in his literary style. They all seemed to have a very similar voice in terms of the writing style anyway(JJ had added "like's" and "man's" and Maureen blanked out swearing) but that was it.
Of course the story had it's good points; humour, the squewiff friendship that blossoms. The journey that unfolds is also an interesting thing to witness; we meet characters who at first feel they have no other option but suicide and then see the process of them becoming accepting of life, and I like the fact that Hornby doesn't have a ridiculous happy happy ending, it's true to life but still uplifting. Still there wasn't any fireworks for me and I did feel a little bit as if I'd wasted my time reading the whole of it, but I'm glad I found out where the characters got to.
I'm sure other readers will appreciate it more than me, but I don't think Hornby's books are my cup of tea.
We all have thought of suicide at some time in our lives. Few of us ever see it through. We wake up and smell the roses, so to speak. Life is worth living and all that, and in the end, what a mess to leave your family. Nick Hornby has written a sometimes comic side to this serious issue. He has done it well, but it does drag at times. Don't take this review too seriously, please, Mr. Hornby
Martin, Jess, JJ and Margaret, 3 of them Brits and one American all meet on this fateful night. The night they choose to end their life. New Years Eve, the night of new beginnings is the evening they chose. Each of them has a good reason, or at least they think it is at the time. Well thought out, well, no, but thought out anyway. Toppers House, the roof, a tall building, well known as the place for suicide. If you are going to end your life don't you want to do it where the "in" crowd goes for their suicides? Margaret, the lonely, middle-aged woman who has had sex only once in her life, and begat a son so disabled that he knows not who or what she is. Margaret takes a bus and then walks to Topper House after she sends her son to the nursing home for the evening. She observes, Martin over by the edge of the roof. Martin, the ever tanned, ex-morning TV star who has messed up his life royally. He had an affair with a 15 year old, served time, lost his marriage and his children, what is there to live for? Soon, into this mix comes Jesse. She, of the wise-cracking, young adult, filled with many alcoholic drinks looking for her lost love. The love that she dated once and slept with once, and who left her after that date. JJ opens the roof door bringing a pizza for an inhabitant of the building. He joins the group. He is an ex-rock star in a failed band, with a failed relationship. This group had to decide who jumped first, and in the midst of the discussion tell a little bit of why they are there. After the discussion, there really isn't any need for suicide right now. So, they decide to further the discussion at Martin's house. They seemed to have lost their lust for death.
These four people have formed a union of support. Over the next three months they meet to continue the support and comical, odd ball and serious issues surface. This is a book of redemption. A serious discussion of suicide, and the lost souls who contemplate such an action. What do these four people bring to each other? Remember that old song sung by Kris Kristoffsen "Help me Make It Through The Night"? That is what this book is about. How do we make it through each day and through each night? "With a Little Help From our Friends". I am sorry, I just could not help it, I had to add that song. Trite as it may be. The book drags at times, but is so funny and so off-beat and so well written, I forgive Mr. Hornby. Recommended. prisrob
on 11 August 2006
A disgraced TV presenter's plan to end it all is thwarted by the arrival of a stranger with the same plan, and then another, and yet another. The mood is spoiled (suicide being by & large a lonely affair) so they take, mostly unwillingly, the long hard way back to their lives.
The only thing I find unlikely in the story is that initial meeting (but that's why it's called fiction). The rest: the fact that once together they don't jump, they keep in touch even if tortorous, the state of their own lives, etc., does not require a leap of faith.
I enjoyed reading the book, even if I didn't find all the characters likeable (that girl just drove me up the wall). It's fresh & thought-provoking; and despite the seemingly heavy topic, it's perfect for holidays.
on 18 April 2006
This is a very bold book, but Hornby pulls it off with minimalist simplicity and drollness. The tale, about suicide and hopelessness, that unfolds is a curious and impulsive one. An odd quartet of suicidals becomes a kind of surrogate family; each individual makes a move at creating a bearable future, while constantly getting on each other's nerves. Hornby retains a lovely comic undertone. Life is worth living
Nick Hornby can rightfully claim to be the king of modern day intelligent 'lad-lit' and he deserves immense credit for getting many 30something males reading again.
His first three major works - two superb novels About A Boy and High Fidelity plus Fever Pitch, his touchingly honest account of the male passion for football - put him into a league of his own and made subsequent books must-buys.
To be honest, however, his last two novels (including this on) have been let downs.
This one has an excellent premise - it is about four people who are about to commit suicide at the same time at a well -known 'suicide spot' deciding against it and forming an unlikely bond. The problem is that the unlikely bond is simply too unlikely because the four people are just so different that I doubt they could convince a child to eat sweets let alone stop each other killing themselves!
Told in turn by the four very different characters, the story has a nice pace and is very readable but it simply lacks credibility. Worst of all is the creation of a screwed up teenager - Jess - who is simply so unlikable and horrible there won't be anybody reading this who wouldn't have wished she had indeed jumped in chapter one. That the three relatively sane and intelligent people around here would have befriended her and ignored her OTT exploits is one of those unlikely premises on which this book is based and I am afraid that by the end of the book I felt a little bit cheated that a potentially fascinating plot had simply failed to deliver or offer nearly enough of Hornby's usually spot-on insights into the psyche.
Nick Hornby remains an important writer and a very good wordsmith and ideas man but he needs another 'great' book I think. And this isn't it.
on 18 May 2007
When How To Be Good was published, much was made of the fact that Hornby has chosen to make his protagonist a woman - the coverage for A Long Way Down seemed to focus much more on the atypical subject matter (suicide and depression) rather than his deployment of four alternating voices throughout his book to explore how four different people reached the point where they wanted to end their lives.
The book sees four very different people on top of a block of flats that also serves as a local suicide spot one New Years Eve. All four stop each other from jumping yet all feel that they have very real problems that they cannot solve, at least not on their own. From this point, Hornby moves through the development of the characters lives from this point onwards and explores the common bond that ties them all together.
Hornby has drawn his characters expertly and it is difficult not to empathise with them. The book is also shot through with his normal humorous observations and this could be the funniest book about depression ever written. This is not to say that the book makes light of suicide - indeed, it is a beautiful exploration of what remains a real taboo within society.
A Long Way Down is not a book of perfect happy endings, but like How To Be Good suggests glimmers of hope at the end of the book. This book has reaffirmed Hornby's status of one of the best writers the UK currently has to offer.
on 1 August 2006
Nick Hornby's latest is by far the best. A Long Way Down is funny and heart warming. No the characters don't like each other, but that surely is the point. That total strangers can find a reason to live through each other is an extraordinary idea. Few books make me laugh out loud, but this one did, it also made me tearful. a jolly good read.