A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby

Four strangers meet at the top of a tower block one New Year's eve when they've all gone there with the idea of killing themselves. After they start talking, they all decide they can't actually go through with it, and go down again. But they're connected now, and the book follows their individual and collective progress following the fateful night.

After no new Hornby novel since "How to be Good" (which I really rated) in 2001, I was really looking forward to this. But I found it disappointing.

In HtbG, Hornby used a female protagonist, and I think that he got some criticism for that, although it wasn't something that I found awkward or stilted. In this book, the story is told by each of the four would-be suicides, with smallish (two or three page) sections told in the first person by each one. And I don't think this worked. The characters were different, but there wasn't really enough of them to get your teeth into. Maybe it would have been better if the book had been in four distinct parts: the swift chopping and changing perspectives were part of the problem. But I think better still would have been if he'd just used one narrator; maybe that wouldn't have been such an interesting technical challenge for him but I think that would have been a better book.

As it was, I didn't really feel much sympathy with any of the characters (maybe that was partly intentional), and wasn't really that bothered about what happened to them. He obviously wanted to make them distinct, and so they all had quite different reasons for wanting to end their lives, and different social backgrounds, etc., but it was as if each one's problems negated, or de-emphasised, the impact of the others.

There were occasional funny bits, but nothing particularly poignant (which I think was a characteristic of the first two books) or insightful (which I did think HtbG was). So, I don't think I'd bother reading it again. Although I did think the end was good, in an unresolved sort of way. Now, where's my old copy of "How to be Good"?

Completed : 28-Apr-2006

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