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Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

A Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby

Four people head to the roof of Topper’s House in London on New Year’s Eve with the intent of jumping off. Upon meeting, however, they end up talking to each other to find out why they have all chosen suicide. Martin, a middle-aged former television personality, went to jail after sleeping with an underage girl – in his defense, he did not know she was underage – and wants to die because he’s lost his job and family. Maureen is an older woman who has sacrificed her entire life to raising her son Matty, a disabled vegetable. She has cared for him all his life, and for what? He doesn’t even seem aware of her. She wants to die and be rid of her problems forever. A musician-turned-pizza-boy named JJ wants to die, because, well, he’s a musician-turned-pizza-boy. It may not be much of a reason, but he’s still not happy about it. Finally, an extremely obnoxious and rude teenager named Jess wants to die because she’s impulsive and self-destructive, but also because she has a lot of relationship problems with her family and friends. Instead of jumping, the four of them decide to meet up again. It’s not that they’re friends, exactly – no one likes Jess, to start – but a bond has been formed over their shared experience. Over the next few months, they periodically get together to discuss whether it would be better to die or to try and fix the problems in their lives.

I listened to an audio version of this book, which was pretty well done. Since the story is told from four different first-person perspectives, there are multiple narrators. I did find it a little odd that the same woman did the voice for both Maureen and Jess, but two different men voiced JJ and Martin. Well, go figure. Maybe it would have been too expensive to hire another actress.

The only character I really liked was Maureen; her situation was genuinely crappy and, given that she was in her early fifties, she’d struggled with it for most of her life. She seemed a kind and sensible woman, but giving all her time to raise a disabled son had left her desperately lonely…and with no end in sight, suicide probably did seem like the best solution for her. The others…well, they were harder to sympathize with. Martin was suffering the consequences of some pretty bad choices; it sucked, but he kinda deserved it. Jess had a hard life – her older sister disappeared and it was suspected she killed herself – but her reaction was to drink, smoke and party to oblivion while screeching at everyone she knew. Jess was a drama queen, and she was hard to tolerate except in very small doses. JJ was the most sympathetic after Maureen, but his problem just didn’t seem that bad and he came off as rather whiny. Even he knew he didn’t have a great reason for killing himself; since he initially made up a different one.

But I enjoyed this book anyway. It was often quite funny in a dark and rather morbid way. The characters were all so different that it was hard to imagine them every meeting up under normal circumstances, and this made their interactions all the more amusing. Even better, after a while they all came to care about each other, in a fashion, and tried to help the others through their difficulties.

Ultimately, the book illustrates that the real challenge isn’t killing oneself, but continuing to live. There’s no magical solution to problems, or even a neatly-wrapped ending. I like that the book just trails off without a strong resolution, because that’s like life, right?

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about A Long Way Down, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.


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