By Karinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 22, 2005
There are few things in this world that can make a long Friday afternoon wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles bearable. Luckily for me, one of those things is Nick Hornby's latest novel, "A Long Way Down." Despite being a book that centers around suicide - or attempted suicide - it had me laughing out loud in the crowded waiting room as I listened for my number to be called.
Nick Hornby has already had his fair share of literary hits - among them, "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" - and his newest effort doesn't disappoint. While some have described his novels as "lad lit," appealing strongly to a male audience, in "A Long Way Down" he proves the versatility of his voice by convincingly penning a woman's point of view. Well, two women, actually.
8 out of 10
A Long Way Down
The story is told via first-person accounts from four different characters. One is a dowdy middle-aged mother of a severely disabled son, one is a punk-ish teenage daughter of an education minister (we're in England, folks), one is a young American man with dreams of making it big as a rock and roll star, and one is a morning talk-show host turned tabloid fodder after a well-publicized affair with a 15-year-old girl. What do all these people have in common, and why are they sharing a story?
They all intended to commit suicide, and they just happened to find themselves on top of the same building at the same time. Contrived, hugely improbable situation? Yes. But it sets the stage for some wild storytelling. Each of the characters have strong, believable voices, and each has a sufficient back story and enough going on in their individual lives that their stories don't merely echo one another. After meeting on the rooftop and deciding not to jump, the four depressed Britons form a unique sort of club, linking themselves together at times but each maintaining separate identities.
Their narrations delve into serious topics - what drives one to suicide, and what keeps one from actually doing it, finding your identity among the tangled mess of one's failed relationships, and what makes us keep going, even when all signs point to the futility of our ventures. To Hornby's credit, he addresses all of these issues in a thoughtful and mature (or in the case of some characters, immature) manner without weighing the story down and turning it into 333 pages of depression inducing drama. It's a funny book. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and there are fabulous laugh-out-loud one-liners decorating nearly every page.
If the book has a downfall, it would be that it tries to do too much. There are so many subplots, acts of deception, incidents of quick thinking and conniving, and personal growth or change that the book seems - at times - to move at a frantic pace. Readers need to pay close attention to who is doing what at all times, or else they may find themselves very lost in the complicated story web. This is not a book for skimming.
It is, however, a book very much worth reading. Though writing about suicidal characters is risky, Hornby handles it with a master's touch. The eccentric characters grab your attention, occasionally make you loathe them and ultimately make you empathize with them, even if you're laughing at the same time. "A Long Way Down" doesn't dismiss the seriousness of the central issue but wittily explores the quirks of human nature that drive us to such desperate measures.