Review – A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby.

10073People 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,


A Long Way Down

Review ~ Carthage, by Joyce Carol Oates

18750474Have you a read a book where the words, the soul of it, the understanding, just completely resonated with you, and yet continually challenged your thinking?  How about a book, despite the fact that the narrative isn’t a free flowing, easy-on-the brain journey, yet keeps you engrossed and reading way past your bedtime.  Or perhaps even a book that leaves you speechless, but yet leaves you wanting to get up on the roof and sing its praises.    Yeah…  Those books are very rare indeed.    I am one of the lucky ones that have found a book that embodies all of the above experiences.   Carthage, the latest novel from Joyce Carol Oates, exceeded anything that I could have imagined.

Now, I am Oates virgin.   I of course had hear of her, but had never read any of her books.   Oates was one of those authors that I put into the “I must read something of theirs one day”.   When Carthage was released, I finally bit the bullet.   I wasn’t too sure what to expect; Oates is an extremely successful author and there was definitely an air of apprehensive mystery around her – in my opinion.   When I finally got my copy in the post, I was so excited and instantly began to read, or more accurately, devour.

Those that are knowledgeable in Ancient Greek history, will recognize that Carthage is the name of an ancient civilization, way back in the day.  So instantly, you have this connotation of potential tragedy brewing.   This of course, is before we even get to the names of some of the characters!  Zeno (a Greek philosopher who was known for his paradoxes) and his daughters, Cressida and Juliet (the main protagonists from Shakespeare’s tragedies Troilus and Cressida and Romeo and Juliet, respectively).  Now, I’ve seen other authors try and replicate their novels after tragic plays etc…, but Oates does it so subtly, yet delivers such a punch, that it doesn’t feel like a parody at all.   You feel the tragedy and the irony in such a profound way and indeed in such a contemporary fashion.

The plot focuses on the search for Cressida who has gone missing.  The blame is soon put onto Juliet’s ex-boyfriend, Brett, an injured soldier, recently returned from Iraq.   A fairly simple plot one may assume.   Well, yes, it is.  However, what makes it so complicated, and yet so fascinating, is the peppering of differing perspectives, and “truths” that Oates spreads throughout.   Where one character has a deep perspective on events, another character sees it in a completely different light; the reader is teased and led down the proverbial garden path, on more than occasion.

I really can’t say much else in case I inadvertently spoil it for someone, so all I’ll say is that you should go out and read, no scrap that, EXPERIENCE, this tour de force of a novel.    After reading this, I am going to have to buy some other novels by Oates.   Any suggestions, dear readers?

Well, I am going to go and sit in a book slump…..