Monday, 29 February 2016

One Man's Opinion: A LONG WAY DOWN by NICK HORNBY


Funnily enough, this is my second suicide related book of the year. This one has a very different feel to the first. Whereas The Jump offers an attempt at an in-depth probe into the psychology of a jumper and the resulting waves created in the aftermath, A Long Way Down uses it more as a situation and squeezes out humour wherever it can be found. The attempt at suicide is the thing that brings the main characters together and is the glue that binds them as the story unfolds.

Four characters go up to the roof of Toppers House with the intention of killing themselves. Because they all arrive together, they end up saving each other and set off on a journey that will change their lives forever. 

The four are wonderful creations. They tell the story from their own points of view like a tag team. Maureen is a middle-aged Catholic lady who has no partner and cares for her disabled son alone. Martin's a celebrity who has had the humiliation of having his sordid private life exposed. Jess is a barmy product of a chemistry formed by New Labour parents, life at the local comp and a missing sister who has probably taken her own life. JJ's a cool American who suffers from existential angst and a the knowledge that he's become a total failure as a rock musician.  

They form an unlikely bond, set themselves goals and begin to care for each other. Their friendship is, however, defined by the only thing they have in common and is therefore rather shaky. 

The events that follow are often touching and frequently very funny indeed. As the book enters its third part it feels like the author has no painted himself into a corner. The ending is either going to see a death or it isn't and in some ways neither of these options can be totally satisfactory. 

There's plenty of social commentary and Hornby does a great job of exposing the flaws of each character by painting them in different ways through the eyes of others. 

Though there's a lot of entertainment to be had here, and the book did cheer me up every time I picked it up, I wouldn't want to give the impression that it's entirely trivial. There are plenty of sobering moments and also subtle examinations of human pain that are nicely handled. 

So, now I'm on a roll with books on suicide, can you suggest a third? I'd be happy to hear your recommendations. 


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