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Book Review: Nick Hornby's 'A Long Way Down'

“So the whole conversation is going right off course. It's like a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel, because all the time I'm thinking, this should be easy to push along, and everything I say just takes me in the wrong direction.”

When four very different people meet at the loneliest time in their lives, they find one thing in common - they see no way out besides taking the quick way down off of the roof of aptly named Topper’s House. What follows is the most amazing character development you’ll ever read, and subtle enigmas. Will they stay until Valentine’s Day? Would they want to? Is there any other way down and out for them? This is the story of four unlikely acquaintances who are desperate for anything, anybody, to keep from stepping the extra few inches. We learn they don’t want to leave this world, not just yet, but what’s stopping them?

Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ are created through alternating accounts in the first person. The wonderful characterisation has you believing these are real people with real feelings. Hornby’s interesting technique here reveals how different people perceive and deal with situations in very different ways. The most intriguing aspect of which is how they think and narrate these ordeals. Through each event we learn more and more about each character, and we can see subtle changes in how they see the world.

Through the use of such diverse characters it is clear there is a generational divide between the old and the young, and it becomes evident that everybody interprets what amounts to the end of their worlds very differently.

Martin has lost everything he ever cared about, and that’s down to his own stupid “mistake”, as he calls it, and blames everyone else for it but himself.

Maureen has lived next to no life at all, having lived entirely to devote herself to caring for her severely disabled son. I sympathised the most with her; I could truly understand why she saw no way out, and there was nothing to spur her on. When they reach Valentine’s Day, I found myself longing for a sense of relief, that she would change her mind, but I didn’t understand why she would as nothing had changed.

Jess is a young, slightly crazy, young woman who appears carefree. The more I learnt about her and listened to her “unique” narration, I could see why she felt and acted the way she did. She’s always trying to change the person she is yet she never succeeds, and she’s stuck in a loop of wanting to be careless and spontaneous, but the weight of the world lingers heavily in her mind.

JJ is a victim of capitalism in a way. If he can’t have music and be famous for it, then what’s the point in life? In anything? This is where I think JJ’s thinking has motivated me to do what I love, regardless of whether it pays well or I become famous, as long as I am happy with what I’m doing. Consequently, I found myself willing JJ to finally realise that same fact: if he enjoys making music, then make music. I actually became pretty frustrated with him whenever he kept saying he wasn’t good enough to become famous.

I have to say though, I found myself laughing a lot throughout this book. Hornby’s characterisation and humour is fantastic. Each conversation plays out realistically and Jess’ no-filter conversations left me laughing at things I’d probably feel quite guilty about if I said them outloud. One scene I can’t seem to get out of my head is when Jess meets Martin’s ex-wife. Her narration is so wonderfully naïve and hysterical, yet so embarrassing it made my cheeks flush.

This novel is 253 pages of pure brilliance. With the very basis of the book beginning with four people contemplating suicide, you think it’s either going to be a very serious book, or would fail horribly with the portrayal of the reality of the situation. Hornby does the very opposite, and adds a spell of humour. He seems to shed a light on the fact that life can be very, very tough, yet we are the only people who can change it. We’ve only got one life after all.

Even now the book is over I find myself wondering how the characters are doing. You close the cover on the final page, breathe out all of that extra anxious air, and come away with a heartwarming message - always take the long way down… And, read the book before the film.

“Even bad times have good things in them to make you feel alive.”

Published by Penguin in 2005. RRP £7.99


Written by April Williams

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