As one of this country’s most famed modern day writers, I found it quite shameful that I had never actually read one of Nick Hornby’s novels. Sure I’ve heard of him and I’ve watched About A Boy a ridiculous amount of times but I’d never actually read anything he’d written. After reading a couple of reviews of this book, having it recommended to me and the fact it’s now been turned into a film I thought it was long overdue that I gave one of his books a read starting with ‘A Long Way Down’.
The story is quite a simple one in its very basic state: 4 people end up on the roof of a tall building ‘Topper’s House’ famed for its suicide jumps on New Year’s Eve. Each of them planned to end it that night but when they bump into each other it turns into a tale of 4 very different people becoming an unlikely bunch of friends. When Maureen, who’s planned this moment with a lot of care, goes up onto the roof she bumps into a Martin, a TV presenter who’s fall from grace has been well publicised in the press causing him to lose his wife, kids, house and job as well as spending a few months in prison. Maureen is there as she feels like she can’t face her life looking after her severely disabled son anymore, as the pair have a somewhat awkward encounter along comes teenage rebel and hell-bent on making everyone else’s life a misery Jess and heartbroken failed musician JJ. With a group of them up on the roof, it’s inevitable that they never carry out what they set out to do instead they come down from the roof and go on a series of adventures over the course of that night. A night that ends with the four making a pact to not kill themselves for the next 6 weeks and meet again on Valentine’s Day.
The next part of the novel is the lead up to Valentine’s Day with a failed holiday, a lie that becomes national news and more insights into the lives of the four. As the book goes on you find out what led them to the roof in the first place and you see how they come to rely on each other even though they are the most unlikely gang ever. In Part 3, we are past Valentine’s Day, things are starting to progress for them and we meet the people most important to them as they all, mainly Jess, try to sort out each other’s lives. The book is told in the first person narrative and flits from one character to the next meaning you gain a fresh perspective on the story and what is going on to the group after every few pages. Writing it in the first person also makes you feel a little bit closer to the characters like they are personally telling you their story and confiding in you in some way.
I think my favourite character was JJ, even though his reason for wanting to kill himself may not have been as strong as a couple of the others you can tell how in despair he is even though he doesn’t ever really admit it. He was one of the most well rounded and well written characters though all the characters are written very well and were extremely believable. You could picture every single one of them, the way they looked, acted, behaved and even spoke. That for me is the sign of a truly great writer when you can picture the characters they are writing with ease without them aiding you with huge amounts of description. Here it comes from the way they are written, their dialogue and letting them come to life for themselves.
I truly enjoyed this book from beginning to end and I really could not put it down, reading it in just over a week. At a little over 250 pages long it is a short book and something most people could easily manage to read. It’s not at all difficult to get into and if you are anything like me you will probably not be able to put it down anyway. A great novel, a wonderful insight and look at today’s culture and it is extremely well written. It’s safe to say that I will be reading more Nick Hornby novels in the future.