Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
A Long Way Down: Nick Hornby, April 5—20, 2014
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is the basis of the 2014 film of the same name which sees four characters each decide to kill themselves on New Years’ Eve and meet by chance at the top of a popular suicide spot.
The four would-be self-killers are ex-TV presenter turned sex offender Martin (what powers of prediction Horby had back in 2005!); devoutly religious mother of a severely disabled “vegetable” Maureen; drink-swilling, drug-taking, f-bomb-dropping good time girl Jess; and former American musician and boyfriend JJ.
The story sees the four develop an unlikely posse, pledging to delay their respective suicides until Valentines’ Day to see if they’re still of the same mind and keeping tabs on each other in the interim. Told in rotating first person, Hornby does a stand out job of speaking in four very different voices transcending class, age, gender and social standing. The tiniest idiosyncratic details are considered, with entirely different storytelling styles developed for each, perfectly crafted to their personality.
The characters themselves could not be more different, and they come on strong in the opening act. As they let their guard down and build their individual relationships with the reader – frequently breaking the fourth wall as they do – they become more likeable and believable. For me, Martin’s dry wit places him at the top of my list and JJ is the hardest to get to know, but each reader will likely identify with someone different. The narrative style is an excellent choice for this novel, and allows fabulously deep insights into each character as events develop.
The plot is a wonderful romp from the bizarre to the sublime. However improbable it all is, Hornby manages to move things along from A to B with enough credibility to make it swallowable, but it never takes itself too seriously. The band of almost-suicides poke fun at themselves and the situation they’ve found themselves in with refreshing regularity. This is juxtaposed with dark themes of self-worth, self-image, depression, the purpose of life and the release of death.
Hornby tackles a difficult subject matter with brilliant skill. Let’s not forget our four principle characters intended to kill themselves from the outset of the book. Each provide poignant, insightful truisms that resonate with the reader and, whenever things get too outlandish, bring us back to what is a serious issue. The often humorous, sometimes hilarious, narrative absolutely always treats the principle of suicide with respect and while the characters are lampooned, their emotions are not.
In all, Hornby provides a witty, unpredictable and intriguing story which is character-based in the truest sense, and which belies the intelligence and skill behind the seamless tonal transitions and beautifully crafted characters.