What I love about Nick Hornby is that he is lighter than air. So light sometimes that you wonder why you spent time reading about a pot-smoking heir, or some douchebag's record collection, but then, in some future flash, Hornby's images or dialouge pops up in your brain and you think, "wow, he's right on."
A Long Way Down is about four potential suicides who meet on a roof on New Year's Eve. I wanted to see how Hornby tackled suicide. He did good.
The four characters are as different, but not so much that they're voices don't tend to run together as the book goes on. They are all in pain, they all have come to the conclusion that ending their life is the best option. The circumstances of their decisions are super-boring (like the majority of actual people who commit suicide-- sorry Sylvia, Nick, Kurt and Virginia!), but quite real and Hornby allows them to think about death and suicide in a very natural way that trancends their rather mundane plights. They think things like this:
"The truth was I didn't feel like a dying man; I felt like a man who every now and again wanted to die, and there's a difference. A man who wants to die feels angry anf full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball in hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they've let him down. I can't believe dying people feel this way, unless dying is worse than I thought."
One character, Maureen, is the winner of the sob story contest. She had sex once, twenty years ago, and nine months later bore a severely handicapped son that probably doesn't even know she is there. She is the character that changes the most because of her relationship with the other almost-jumpers. My favorite thought of hers is about luck and takes on a belief that I think that many people hold tight to in order not to be crushed (as these characters start this book) by the randomness and unfairness of life.
"What I've come to realize over the years is that we are less protected from bad luck than you could possibly imagine.Because though it doen't seem fair-- having intercourse only the once and ending up with child who can't walk or talk or even recognize me-- well, fairness doesn't really hae much to do with it, does it?... In a way, I'm glad I never had another child, a normal one. I'd have needed more guarentees from God than He could have provided."
I like (and agree) with Hornby's characters' take that when you feel like ending it all, the only thing that can keep you going is the desire to see what will happen next, mixed with some sort of obligation you choose yourself. Not children, not parents, not working. In this book, the characters choose each other. They choose books and eating and vacations. Hornby makes a similar statement in About a Boy, but it is clearer and more elaborate here.
But my favoritest part of this book is that it is funny. I laughed out loud a few times, startling my big-eyed boy, and smiled many more times. Giggling at my desk doesn't happen often and I am grateful for the laughs.Anyway, if I can't laugh while reading about other peoples' pain, you know I've been abducted by aliens and replaced with someone to take home to mother.
I had a hard time writng about this book. Perhaps because A Long Way Down is so simple and sweet, yet forced me to do some thinking of my own.