Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby
333 pages, $35.00
by Joe Wiebe
Posted June 22, 2005
Leave it to Nick Hornby, the popular British author of High Fidelity,
About A Boy, and Fever Pitch, to write a book about suicide
and manage to make it funny. And sad, and moving, and poignant, and provocative.
But not brilliant. Not quite.
A Long Way Down opens on New Year’s Eve on the roof of
“Toppers House”, a tall North London building popular among
suicides, where Martin, a forty-something, erstwhile TV host is dangling
his feet over the ledge. Maureen, a dowdy, 51-year-old single mother,
queues up behind him, but Martin steps aside to accommodate her. Ladies
first and all that.
Before either can jump, however, teenaged Jess comes barreling past, intent
on taking a running leap off the roof. Martin instinctively stops her,
and he and Maureen insist that she is too young to have sufficient reason
to end her life. As they debate this point, a pizza delivery guy shows
up. This is J.J., an American rock musician who initially pretends to
have come up to the roof just to get some air, but later admits he too
was intending to jump.
This unlikely foursome forms a reverse suicide pact and embarks on a series
of improbable adventures that takes them from the pages of sleazy tabloids
to a vacation on Tenerife and eventually, back to the roof of Toppers
Each of the four protagonists takes turns telling the story from their
own perspective, a tidy way of showing how different they are from each
other, and yet how similar. Hornby is primarily known as a “lad
lit” writer, but the protagonist of his last novel, the superb How
To Be Good, was a woman, so he has shown that he can step out of
the male psyche and still be successful. None of these characters, however,
has quite the depth of any of the protagonists from his earlier novels.
In the past, Hornby has demonstrated a deceptive profundity, but there
is a certain shallowness here, a sense that the situation is too easy
and coincidental. Yes, it makes sense that these four very different people
might form a bond that night, but stretching that relationship out for
weeks afterwards becomes hard to believe, especially as we get to know
each of them better.
A Long Way Down may not be the best book to take to the beach
this summer, but thanks to Hornby’s characteristic wit and sharp
eye for the absurdities of contemporary life, this book is still a very
Copyright © Joe
Wiebe. All rights reserved.