Nick Hornby, A Long Way DownA few words on Nick Hornby's most recent "adult" novel, A Long Way Down, which I just finished reading. (His latest book, Slam, is generally considered "young adult", though both of the non-young adults in our household will soon be reading it, after I gave it to Julie for Christmas.) Though the opening scene is fairly contrived (it seems rather unlikely that four such disparate individuals would simultaneously gather, on New Year's Eve, on the same rooftop in order to commit suicide, let alone that all of them would reconsider without a huge amount of persuasion), Hornby effectively goes beyond this stage piece to explore how each of these people arrived at such a desperate point in their lives and, more importantly, how they cope and grow from there to realize that life is indeed worth living. The book has plenty of Hornby's trademark wit (I laughed aloud several times, in public, especially near the end) and pop culture references, and is a breezy read despite the uncharacteristically dour subject matter.
Of particular note is that in Maureen, the lonely, middle-aged mother and character of a disabled young man, Hornby delivers the first compelling, complete and sympathetic female character of his career. (For what it's worth, of the four she is also the character who would be the most justified in wanting to commit suicide.) Hornby attempted a major female character once before, as the narrator of How To Be Good. That book had a nice premise - a wife wishes her cantankerous, cynical husband would become a better human being, but when he finally does so he becomes so pure and self-righteous that she simply can't stand him any longer - but Hornby never got the female voice right, which made the book the weakest of Hornby's career. But with Maureen he nails the voice (which may be partly due to Hornby himself having an autistic child, and thus he and the character think along the same lines) which shows that Hornby is really growing as a writer. Which is good news for all of us. Another winner from one of my favorite writers.
I thought that the four characters could be read as four parts of the human psyche that needed to be integrated before they could proceed with life. Martin: the smooth public face we wear with a lot of issues behind. Maureen: compassionate and other-centered, but to the extreme that almost kills her. Jess: the primal energy within us that needs to be directed. JJ: Our creative side that needs an outlet.
Posted by: Paul Lamb at Dec 29, 2008 5:37:06 AM