Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review: A Long Way Down

I have read both Nick Hornby's About a Boy and How to Be Good and enjoyed them fairly well. I remember jotting down lines from How to Be Good because they resonated so much with me. So, I expected to like his new book, A Long Way Down. I shouldn't say that I disliked it entirely. It was certainly readable, but I just didn't enjoy the read as much as I had expected. Perhaps it was because the subject was a downer or perhaps it was because the characters were abrasive and edgy. For whatever reason, I would say it wasn't my favorite read this year.

The story is told from the perspectives of four different individuals, (and by different, I mean light-years different), and is somewhat confusing at the beginning, before the characters' personalities are solidified in the reader's mind. Hornby manages to pull off the multiple narrators and create distinct voices for each of them. While I didn't generally like the characters, they did have somewhat interesting life stories.

You have Martin, a former talk-show host, JJ, a washed up musician, Jess, an unbalanced teenage girl, and Maureen, a mother of a severely disabled boy. These four individuals end up running into one another on the roof of Topper's House, a popular London location for committing suicide. They end up talking each other down and forming an alliance in an attempt to get through another day and another day when none of them really want to face one more day.  They are an unlikely group and they know it, but circumstances continue to bring them together and they muddle through somehow, even milking the situation to get money off the press.

Having had my own dark night of the soul, I should have been able to relate to the issues plaguing these characters and making them want to end their lives. Yet, somehow, I never felt their despair warranted suicide. It was clear that Maureen just needed a chance to step away from the overwhelming duties of caring for her son (isolation and constant demands can be killer). Martin needed to start over and establish some positive relationships in his life. JJ needed to reassess his skills and interests and choose a new direction. Jess was a little more difficult. I'd say she needed a slap across the face and a whole lot more love from her parents. I just never got to the point of feeling the validity of their despair. Indeed, even they eventually acknowledge the lack of validity for their despair.

Wishing I could say I liked this book better, since I do think Hornby is a good writer. Sadly, I didn't find much in it to embrace. I have no desire to pass the story along to others. Read one of his other books. This one is being made into a movie (trailer here). Who knows, maybe this will be one time where the movie will be better than the book.

Update: I'm feeling my comments in the fourth paragraph of this review were unclear. Thus, I am posting some further thoughts about suicide and this book.

No comments: