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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