A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby; published 2006 by Riverhead Books
Review in a word: Provocative
Opening line: “Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?”
Four people meet on the top of a 15-story building in London on New Year’s Eve, all with the intention of jumping off to their deaths. Martin is an ex-talk show host, the Regis Philbin of England, who was caught sleeping with a 15-year-old and the scandal ruined his family and professional life. Maureen is a middle-aged woman who has given up her entire life to care for her adult son who was born in a vegetative state. JJ is an American stuck delivering pizzas since his rock n’ roll band broke up and his English girlfriend dumped him. Jess is a troubled teen whose older sister has gone missing and who chafes under the restrictions of her politician parents. While they’re each self-absorbed enough not to care whether the others die, they do decide that Jess is too young and still has an opportunity to make a life worth living. So they all go down to help Jess and, over the next several weeks, they get the chance to reassess how committed they are to killing themselves.
It sounds like a pretty depressing story, right? But, as I found with his other book, How to Be Good, Nick Hornby knows how to handle tough topics with humor and sympathy. These characters are funny because of their stubbornness to change, even as they realize that they need to. They don’t really like each other, but end up sticking around because they feel a sense of obligation to each other after sharing such an intense experience. After a few weeks, they go back to the top of the building where they met. Another man is there, ready to commit suicide, and they assume that he can be talked out of it, if they can provide him with the community that they found. But this man isn’t even interested in listening—he just jumps. That’s when they all realize that they’d been holding onto the idea of death as a “rainy day” solution, their escape route, and the truth was they didn’t really want to die at all.
What I’m discovering I enjoy about Nick Hornby’s books is that his writing style is approachable, his openings are gripping, and his characters are thoughtful even in their apparent rashness. I know I can depend on Hornby for a book that will captivate me and make me think.
Recommend? Yes, absolutely.
You might also like:
How to be Good by Nick Hornby
Smut by Alan Bennett