People say that brain surgery is hard, and I agree, it probably is, but I also imagine that writing a story about suicide, and making it into a dark comedy, is also very hard! Nick Hornby has achieved this major feat in his novel, A Long Way Down. Now, this book came out 10 years ago, but it is the first Hornby novel that I have read. I’d always been interested in picking up one of his novels (Hornby is perhaps most famously known for his novel, About a Boy), but it was a case of never pulling the trigger, so to speak. Well, I’m certainly glad that I did!
The novel explores the lives and interactions of four characters that incidentally meet on the top of a building on New Years Eve; all have the intent of jumping off said building. Hmmm…. Sounds pretty grim, huh? Well, let me give you an example of what drew me in:
Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of tower block? Of course I can explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block. I’m not a bloody idiot. I can explain it because it wasn’t inexplicable: It wasn’t a logical decision, the product of proper thought. It wasn’t even very serious thought, either.
The first few lines of the book are full of dark humor, philosophy (actual, realistic philosophical thinking) and candor. Hornby’s use of the first person narrative really draws you in and entices you into each character’s experiences and story. Talking of which, the characters are a huge reason this novel works so well; each character is real. They all have their flaws, and you will spend a considerable amount of time disliking them, wanting to slap them silly, but at the same time, wanting to give them a hug and talk things out with them. I think when you’re story circles around such a profound and personal theme of wondering how your life has ended up the way it has and not seeing any way forward, the characters need to be real; they need to be human – someone we can relate to.
Hornby is British, so his humor is very dark, discrete and dry. I personally loved it, but I can see how a lot of people may miss it, or simply not find it amusing. However, I think this novel will have something for everyone, as it offers hope, perspective and a good old fashioned kick up the rear end. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it also doesn’t offer a glossy shine on life. Oh, and there is a film version of this book, on Netflix, and while it isn’t a bad film, it doesn’t offer nearly the same amount as the book does (and in my opinion, the casting person for that movie should have read the book a little more carefully!), so steer clear until you have finished the book!
Until next time,