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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.
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VINE VOICEon 27 June 2005
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.
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on 23 September 2005
A Long Way Down really does start with an intriguing premise. 4 completely unrelated strangers meet on top of Toppers Towers, a well known suicide spot in North London. The four characters, Martin, Maureen, Jess & JJ come from varying backgrounds with varying amounts of angst in their lives.
At first glance some problems seem a lot worse than others, Maureen is deeply depressed and lonely, which has been brought about by the continued care of her son, who can no more identify who she is or where he is than I can jump over a house. Martin has disgraced himself and lost his lucrative TV job by sleeping with a 15 year old girl, Jess is distraught over the break up of a relationship and JJ sees his life spiralling out of control with the loss of his band, and his girl.
Now you might think that the pressures of full time care of a son who can't appreciate it out rank the troubles of a young girl on her first break up but what Nick Hornby quite skilfully does here is to create an even ground, not judging peoples problems or making light of them. What he is essentially saying is that people deal with problems in their own way, and that even the smallest problem can seem like the end of the world in the wrong hands.
Our characters grow through their relationship with one and other, discussing each others problems and short comings. We begin to discover that there is more to Jess's neurosis than typical "teen angst" and where you swing from understand Martin's behaviours (not his sleeping with a 15 year old...), to thinking he is frankly a berk who has no right to his family if he won't put the work into it. This juxtaposition is at times well handled, but overall feels a little heavy handed and when it comes to it, this is my major problem with the whole book.
The idea is a good one, 4 people come together at their lowest ebb and look to understand each other as well as themselves, but it feels all a little contrived. As if you saw an ad in the paper saying suicide support group, meet on Toppers Towers Monday at Midnight. Bring tea...
It is at times funny, but not laugh out loud funny. It is a times sad, but not cry your eyes out sad. It is at times uplifting, but not hug the nearest person to you uplifting. It is an easy read and will waste a few hours better than most but it isn't an inspired piece of work, and certainly not one of his best.
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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
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VINE VOICEon 3 February 2006
Abiding by his now familiar mantra of "write about what you know", Nick Hornby uses his favourite North London territory as the backdrop for a humorous but hard-hitting examination of the plight of four would-be suicides, variously damaged and battered by life, who come together one New Year's Eve at "Toppers' House", a notorious suicide venue.
The book considers their more or less uneasy relationship over the following months as they attempt to come to terms with the respective problems life has dealt them.
A tale of the lukewarm milk of human kindness and of how genuinely well-intentioned attempts to communicate often end up succeeding only in failing to communicate at all, the book shows much of the chutzpah, drive and flair we have come to expect from Nick Hornby. Once again, he uses his customary footballing and musical tropes to paint in the background; this time, however, it all seems a little too contrived and off-pat.
I bow to nobody in my admiration for "Fever Pitch", the only caveat being that it gave rise to a stream of very poor imitation memoirs by writers not in the same league as Hornby.
As far as his fiction is concerned, however, I have begun to feel that he has now written the same perfectly inoffensive, enjoyably competent novel over and over again.
Is it perhaps time for him to spread his literary wings and try to do something completely different?
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on 10 November 2006
I usually love Nick Hornby's books - I have read About A Boy and How To Be Good several times so was really pleased to find that he had released his latest novel. However I found the book really hard to get into - the concept of the four characters meeting on the top of the car park was good but unfortunately the characters were either all unlikable or forgetable. The book lurched about all over the place and certainly wasn't difficult to put down. It felt an anti-climax when I had eventually finished the book and it's not one I would bother to read again.
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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
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on 6 June 2005
Cards on the table 1): I'm a Hornby fan, going way back to the journlism before Fever Pitch. Notwithstanding his success in recent years I feel he's still underrated as a writer, unfairly grouped with mediocre talents from the same generation. He's possibly the only writer whose work I would buy on trust without reading a review. As was the case with 'A Long Way Down'. Live and learn though, because cards on the tale 2): this is a pretty poor book.

Where to begin ? I guess as a novel it simply doesn't convince. The opening scene feels like a device to bring four fairly uninteresting characters together so that we can observe their developing but deeply unlikely relationship. (In this it reminded me of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, another book I cast aside with relief, whose balloon opening smacked of some kind of five finger exercise.). The book feels tired too - the characters themselves paper thin, the dialogue unconvincing, the set pieces both flat and desperate (the trip to Spain ? Do me a favour...), the plot development negligible, the once charming, now tiresomely predictable references to the Hornby musical yardstick against which all characters must be validated... The mechanics of using perspectives from all four characters just felt clumsy, robbed the book of forward momentum and made it hard to engage properly with any of them, but maybe it was easier to fill the pages that way - a supermarket trolley with four wonky wheels was the image that came to mind. Or a kind of Jacqueline Wilson for grownups, with its ishoo-driven plot and its shouty dialogues and its grimy backdrops. In passing, wheelchair users get frequent roll-on parts in her books too, but are rarely treated so dismissively or patronisingly as Hornby treats Matty (and indeed Maureen) here.

I suppose the worst thing is that I can hardly be bothered writing this review. I fell like a restaurant critic having to review warmed up leftovers. I'm hoping this is the end of a phase for Nick Hornby and not a jumping of the shark. I hope someone boots him in a new direction for his next book. Or than he returns to journalism which is where I sense his heart really lies. 'How To be Good' was an interesting experiment. This isn't. Must do better next time...
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on 18 May 2014
It’s not Hornby’s best by a mile. I cherish my copies of “About a Boy” and “High Fidelity”, and my to-read list includes several other Hornby titles. I was a bit surprised to find out that this book was published a decade ago, as I had never heard of it until just recently. While Hornby’s “voice” was reassuringly recognizable within the text, for me it just didn’t have that certain spark that sets it apart as something special. In fact, I found it all a bit average on my judgment scale. I didn’t hate it; didn’t love it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but there’s most definitely a lot worse material out there.

Perhaps, for me, it was the subject matter of suicide. I’m all for a bit of dark comedy, but having suffered with depression myself, it could just have been that much harder to laugh at these sorts of macabre character studies. I think that Hornby did a very good job of illustrating the difference between those who are crying out for a bit of help, and those that are in drastic need of professional assistance. I am not saying that the book was offensive or insensitive in any way. It could merely be that this sort of story appears more laughably maudlin and less dire to certain readers.

I was able to enjoy some of funny passages of the book. I especially liked JJ as a character; which is a no-brainer because he’s the American hanging out with the Brits (just like your humble reviewer). I enjoyed the way that the story was told from four different perspectives. Jess’ passages were a riot.

In retrospect I think that this book will most likely make for a very good film, as the interpretation and direction of the script will most likely be hand-fed to the audience with just the right balance. I’m looking forward to watching it on cable someday, as it has just been released in the cinema, and disagreeing with all of the casting choices (any booklover’s perogative, of course).
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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.
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