A Long Way Down

By Nick Hornby

Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year’s Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper’s House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives.

In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances.

So very British and so very good. This book, despite appearances, is rather funny, full of that famed dry, British wit. The dialogue, the action, and the pace crackles along, whipping the pages beneath your fingers.

This book is quite funny, not laugh out loud, but the kind of funny that pulls your lips up into a smile as you read, without you being aware of it. All the jokes are essentially jokes about death and suicide and sex and pretty much every untoward subject you could muster. But when your premise is about four people who meet on top of a building because they’ve all come to kill themselves, you can pretty much do whatever you damn well please.

A Long Way Down reminds me a bit of Empire Falls. All of these characters aren’t particularly sympathetic and have the kind of lives that make you want to scream and rip your hair out because their individuals situations suck so bad and it seems like they have no escape. But somewhere in that puddle of triviality and struggle of human life, we can reach these moments of poignancy, where who we are and what we’re doing are crystalline. And that’s exactly what Hornby does.

 

SPOILERS

 

Not really spoiling anything, so much as offering up two particularly poignant passages from this novel that I felt worthy of being noted, remembered, and shared.

“And maybe for the first time in the last few months, I acknowledged something properly, something I knew had been hiding right down in my guts, or at the back of my head–somewhere I could ignore it anyway. And what I owned up to was this: I had wanted to kill myself not because I hated living, but because I loved it. And the truth of the matter, I think, is that a lot of people who think about killing themselves feel the same way….they love life, but it’s all fucked up for them…we were up on the roof because we couldn’t find a way back into life, and being shut out of it like that…it just fucking destroys you, man.”

“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.”

 

END SPOILERS

 

This was my first Nick Hornby book and it won’t be my last. Two of his other novels, About a Boy and High Fidelity, have also been turned into quite successful films that I haven’t seen. So I believe I’ve knocked over the anthill containing my next author obsession. Also, apparently this book was adapted into a film. Seems there will be a lot of Hornby in my future.

Have you read this book? Or any of Hornby’s others? What do you recommend?

 

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