A Long Way Down
written by Nick Hornby
published by Riverhead Books, 2005
Did I enjoy this book: There’s got to be at least one character in a book that I care about. I was slogging through a modern classic–I won’t name it here–with the least likable set of characters I’d ever encountered. I pushed through to the halfway mark, and then I said, “Why am I doing this? I’m going to find a novel whose people touch my heart.”
I was lucky enough to pick up Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. I really enjoyed the book.
The cover of my copy of A Long Way Down shows four pairs of shoes hovering over a blue sky. The wing tips are fallen talk show host Martin’s. The comfortable oxfords are 51-year-old Maureen’s. Teenaged smart-mouth Jess owns the black Keds (and the red socks), and the boots belong to rock star wannabe JJ. These four unlikely compatriots meet atop Topper’s Tower in London one New Year’s Eve. Each climbs to the roof alone, intending to jump and end a life that no longer has meaning.
They come down in a pack, on a mission to find Jess’s erstwhile boyfriend. Then, mission accomplished, they find they can neither break their connection nor complete their original mission.
The book is told in all four voices, so we get inside each of their heads–miserable screw-up Martin, who had it all and lost it via his own stupidity; self-effacing Maureen, whose life has been spent caring for a son so disabled he has no awareness; the jilted Jess, whose sister is missing–a probable suicide; and musician JJ, who lost his band, his love, and his will to live.
This band of misfits screws up regularly and sometimes spectacularly. They’re drifty and lunatic, self-centered and clueless, and yet–I care about each one.
Would I recommend it: I recommend A Long Way Down if you want a funny book with likable characters that admits to hope. Don’t look for saccharine, though–true love doesn’t come waltzing through the door, nor do the foolish become wise with the flash of a Hogwarts’ wand. But people on the wrong course do manage, with determination and an odd kind of courage, to turn their baggage-heavy ships. They get by,–yes, they do,–with a little help from their odd cast of friends.
About the book – from Goodreads: In his eagerly awaited fourth novel, New York Times-bestselling author Nick Hornby mines the hearts and psyches of four lost souls who connect just when they’ve reached the end of the line.
Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year’s Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper’s House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives.
In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances.
Intense, hilarious, provocative, and moving, A Long Way Down is a novel about suicide that is, surprisingly, full of life.
What’s your jumping-off point?
Why is it the biggest sin of all? All your life you’re told that you’ll be going to this marvelous place when you pass on. And the one thing you can do to get you there a bit quicker is something that stops you getting there at all. Oh, I can see that it’s a kind of queue-jumping. But if someone jumps the queue at the post office, people tut. Or sometimes they say “Excuse me, I was here first.” They don’t say “You will be consumed by hellfire for all eternity.” That would be a bit strong.
I’d spent the previous couple of months looking up suicides on the Internet, just out of curiosity. And nearly every single time, the coroner says the same thing: “He took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.” And then you read the story about the poor bastard: His wife was sleeping with his best friend, he’d lost his job, his daughter had been killed in a road accident some months before . . . Hello, Mr. Coroner? I’m sorry, but there’s no disturbed mental balance here, my friend. I’d say he got it just right.
I was at a party downstairs. It was a shit party, full of all these ancient crusties sitting on the floor drinking cider and smoking huge spliffs and listening to weirdo space-out reggae. At midnight, one of them clapped sarcastically, and a couple of others laughed, and that was it-Happy New Year to you, too. You could have turned up to that party as the happiest person in London, and you’d still have wanted to jump off the roof by five past twelve. And I wasn’t the happiest person in London anyway. Obviously.
New Year’s Eve was a night for sentimental losers. It was my own stupid fault. Of course there’d be a low-rent crowd up there. I should have picked a classier date-like March 28, when Virginia Woolf took her walk into the river, or November 25 (Nick Drake). If anybody had been on the roof on either of those nights, the chances are they would have been like-minded souls, rather than hopeless f*ck-ups who had somehow persuaded themselves that the end of a calendar year is in any way significant.