“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.”
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down (2005)
In Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down four individuals meet under unusual circumstances. Its New Year’s Eve when Martin, a shamed TV host, Jess, a teenage delinquent, Maureen, a guilt-ridden single mother and JJ, a failed American musician, find themselves at the top of a tower block in London all considering the same question: whether to end their lives or not. In spite of this they couldn’t be more different, but having unintentionally interrupted each other’s plans they agree to meet again in a few weeks’ time to reassess the situation. Their shared experience starts an unconventional friendship.
The narrative flicks between the four central characters. I found Martin’s cynical view of the world the most entertaining and Maureen’s the most pitiful. Having been involved in a scandal that cost his marriage and children, Martin is under no allusions about what kind of man he is, while Maureen has spent her life trying apologising for herself and worrying what others think. It’s interesting that two people with such different attitudes could end up in the same place literally and psychologically. As for Jess, her mind was not one I enjoyed inhabiting. I often wanted to shake her for her insensitive and obnoxious attitude towards everyone else. She was a character that I found it hard to even like, let alone sympathise with.
A Long Way Down features the acerbic humour that made me love High Fidelity. Events escalate after New Year’s Eve in unexpected and ludicrous ways. I would have preferred the four characters to stay up on that rooftop longer, perhaps through the majority of the book instead of following the weeks of comedic events that follow, to establish their characters in that defining moment alone. At times they seemed too stereotypical – it would have been interesting to see that challenged.
All in all, it was a good read with some wonderfully funny moments. It just goes to show the potential of strangers.