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on 14 January 2012
This is one of those books which you read and wonder how the critics on the cover could possibly have found anything nice to say. I read High Fidelity a few years ago and didn't think it deserved the attention it had received; I tried again with Hornby, and I'm even less impressed this time.

From the premise of this book, you would be expecting it to attempt three main things:

1) It should explore the mentality of the suicidal. With its four narrators, that would allow for a pretty extensive coverage of the motives for suicide. Instead of this, Hornby describes four ridiculously unrealistic people, all of whom do something insanely out of character at least once in the book: the sheltered Catholic woman who gets drunk and punches a stranger; the crazily wild daughter of an Education Minister who suddenly starts trying to self-analyse; the disillusioned Z-list chat show host who finally gets the chance to talk to his daughters again, and casually throws it away; the thoughtful, bookish lead singer of a band who spontaneously claims to have a fatal illness. In other words, Hornby's characterisation is incredibly poor, and I didn't believe for a minute that these characters were suicidal, perhaps excepting Maureen, the single mother.

2) It should be realistic, at least vaguely, as it is set in the real world. It's not just the characterisation which fails in this; the plot is inexplicably absurd at times, particularly when the crazy 18-year-old (whose mentality is most definitely not that of any 18-year-old I could imagine) claims to a reporter that they have seen an angel. Whilst this act is in itself not too hard to believe, the fact that the three others simply acquiesce to her suggestion makes no sense; the motivation of money doesn't stand alone to explain anything. It's a plot device at best, and not a very good one.

3) It should be well-written. This is an expectation of any book, really. By well-written, I'm not suggesting it needs to be any less conversational, but Hornby's metaphors are all over the place, and frequently he leaves me wondering what he is trying to say - once or twice to represent general confusion would not be a problem, but the writing is clumsy throughout.

The reason I didn't give this book up after the first few pages is that it redeems itself with its light-heartedness, or the occasional poignant moment when it illuminates some truth, or uses phrasing witty enough to raise a smile. I can accept that I'm not in Nick Hornby's target audience, but even then, I could recognise the quality of a book without enjoying it, and in this case, I really can't see it. A Long Way Down offers no real insights and left me frustrated. Possibly, whether you'll like it or not depends on what you want to get from the book, but anyone looking for more than a quick, vaguely humorous read on the train will be disappointed.
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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 2 December 2012
A book about four people intending to commit suicide does not usually suggest to be readable and entertaining. However, in his fourth novel A Long Way Down Nick Hornby grabs the attention of the reader by presenting the uncommon topics of suicide and desperation in an amusing and creative way.
In his previous award winning novels Hornby covers themes about music, sport and morality. In the dark comedy A Long Way Down the author collects all the positive features of his previous pieces of work and includes description of the difficulties in life and how to overcome them. Having been on the shortlist for Costa Book Awards and Whitbread Novel Award, the novel is written in a friendly and intimate style, which makes it accessible to the readers.
Hornby uses the first person narrative form and structures the novel in four monologues that take turns throughout the plot. The protagonists - Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ- are all people with different backgrounds, who meet on the top of Topper's House in London on New Year's Eve with the intention to commit suicide. However, the four of them decide to give themselves a second chance in order to find out whether throwing yourself from the top of a building is the best solution to your problems. Using his talent to present miserable situations in a humorous background, the author describes the foibles in his characters' personalities and shows how they learn from each other's misfortunes.
A Long Way Down gives the impression to be a book only about suicide, but in fact it is a guidance of how to appreciate life. Although the protagonists' reasons for committing suicide might seem quite understandable - Martin is an infamous television host, Maureen - a lonely mother of a disabled son, Jess - a teenage girl with serious family problems and JJ - an unsuccessful American musician - the foursome finds out what deserves to be valued in life. The plain statement that Jess makes at the end of the novel: "It's all part of life, isn't it?" (Hornby 2005, p.230), helps us realise that we were not born with a guarantee for well-being and if we want to achieve it, we have to make an effort. Exactly these simple conclusions contain the moral of the book and teach the readers to be more optimistic in their judgements of the vital spark.
What I find groundbreaking about A Long Way Down is Nick Hornby's approach to leave the novel with an open end. Thus the readers are provided with the opportunity to think about the difficulties they have and compare them to the troubles Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ experience. In my opinion, what Hornby wants to teach us with his book is how to prevent desperation and regain our desire for life, which we are inclined to lose in harsh moments.
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on 10 January 2010
`A Long Way Down' is the fourth novel by author Nick Hornby. The novel is an unusual story about four individuals who only have one thing in common; they all intend on jumping to their deaths from `Topper's Tower' on New Years Eve.
It is on the roof of Topper's Tower that we meet the four characters; the first is Martin Sharp, a once successful morning television presenter who lost his job and family when he slept with a 15-year-old girl which led to a spell in prison. Martin is then joined by Maureen, a middle aged women who has come to the end of her tether looking after her severely disabled son. We then meet Jess, a precocious 18-year-old girl with a broken heart who has to be wrestled to the ground to prevent her from jumping. The last to join the group is JJ, an American rocker who once had great success with his band "Big Yellow" however he chose a girl over his band and when this fell through he has had to make his money by delivering pizzas.
The only thing that stops them all from jumping is the presence of each other as each character wanted to do it alone. This leads to an unlikely group of allies who decide to help each other through their tough times.

The novel itself is very well written; Hornby has used first person narrative very successfully which makes it read more like a diary rather than a story... "Oh, and one more thing- especially if you're reading this in the future, when everyone's forgotten about us and how things turned out for us..." This makes the novel feel very personal and allows you to relate and care for each of the characters. If anything, the story is a little far fetched with four suicidal strangers each with such dramatic backgrounds meeting on a roof top and becoming allies. However the character's are written so well that you quickly accept the unlikelihood of this happening and become intrigued by what led them up there in the first place. In this sense Hornby does not disappoint, each page reveals a new piece of information about their past which allows the reader to get to know the characters better and actually care for them.

The story is set in modern day Britain something Hornby writes about very well. He hits the nail on the head about the attitude of today's society through his character JJ and it is this that sets the tone for the novel. " The trouble with my generation is we all think we're geniuses. Making something isn't good enough for us...we have to be something." Overall this novel is driven entirely by its character's who are extremely interesting and thought provoking. As with Hornby's previous novels, A Long Way Down is an easy read with elements of comedy which help put a softer edge to the serious issues raised in the novel.
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on 1 July 2015
Well, I read it, and Nick Hornby is definitely the writer du nos jours. However, books last a very long time and there are all sorts of legal ramifications.
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on 27 May 2012
I haven't read any of Nick Hornby's books before and have only watched 'About a Boy' but there was something so compelling about this book that I had to buy it - plus there was $10 off!

Reading the reviews in the book I was so looking forward to reading it and then all I was left with was feeling disappointed! I read the book in 24hrs as I was on a 14hr journey and it was easy to flow through.

The first few pages left me intrigued, although I was immediately annoyed by the Jess character but I thought things would improve. I was mistaken, her character was the worst and I'm not sure why anyone would put up with her at all - she seemed younger than 18 years old. I wanted to thump the page every time she talked, which was a lot! I did feel for Maureen and her situation and could recognise that and Martin could have grown on me had there been any character development. There was even less information on JJ, it would have been better if we had more of an insight into who they actually were.

There were parts of this book that did make me chuckle but they were few and far between and some of the sentences in the book made me look at life and suicide - that is where the 2 stars came from.

Suicide has affected me on numerous occasions and I thought reading this book I would be spending time with affected souls and hearing their heartfelt stories and how they helped each other through it and what they achieved by not going through with it and the friendships they made. Instead Hornby wasted time with unrealistic events like the holiday to Tenerife and the media story about the Angel.

This book could have worked on so many levels but unfortunately Hornby didn't dig deep enough, which is a shame as a book on this topic, written well, would have been amazing!
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on 1 July 2005
Few authors could accomplish what Nick Hornby does with "A Long Way Down". He takes a odd foursome who come together by chance when they each pick the same local to attempt suicide, then talk each other out of it, and creates a dysfunctional extended surrogate family out of them. What makes Hornby so incredible as a writer is that he accomplishes this sad set up with his trademark humor and subtle wit. I extremely well done novel. The only other books I could think to recommend as being in the same league are "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time", "High Fidelity", "My Fractured Life", and "The Wonder Spot."
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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 27 May 2005
I really like Nick Hornby books, and this one was no exception. I do feel he has already covered some of this ground in About a Boy, which was a wonderful, poignant novel that handled the subject of suicide with beauty and respect. Another wonderful novel I read recently that handled suicide very well was A Secret Word.
Long Way Down more direcly takes on the subject as it is narrated in turns by four people planning to kill themselves and using each other as a kind of support group. I admire taking on this subject matter, and I also thought the humour was very good and not overdone.
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on 18 May 2005
I really like Nick Hornby and have always found his books light and original. This was just too heavy for me - its starts with 4 people about to top themsleves. The characters are contrasting and I did sort of take to JJ, an American musician. The 4 become a support group to each other postponing their date with death. The topics are all mostly dark - disgrace and despair - mainly channelled through Martin the disgraced breakfast television host ( who spent time in jail). I felt like a councillor sitting with a group of depressed people, although Hornby adds in a few lighter comments that helped me get though. Not one I will re-read. I'm off to either put on my happy songs CD, watch a Peter Kay DVD, re-read a Steve Horsfall or Ben Elton novel.
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