Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down may be one of his less well-known novels, but for me it is his best. It combines all of the essential qualities of Hornby’s work: the dark comedy of About A Boy, the subtle humour of How To Be Good, and the characteristic literary style seen in his first novel, High Fidelity. I was left thinking about this book a long time after I had finished the last page. So much so, that it even inspired one of my undergraduate creative writing pieces (but maybe don’t tell that to my tutors).
The novel consists of three parts, and each chapter is written in a different first-person narration, from the perspective of four main characters (Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ). In short, these four strangers’ paths collide one New Year’s Eve when each plan to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a building – the fictitious Toppers’ House in London, which is supposedly inspired by Archway Tower in North London. However, inevitably, the story becomes more complex than this, and what begins as four separate failed suicide attemps ends with a collective understanding that life may just be worth sticking around for after all.
What I find most impressive about this book is not just Hornby’s affecting account of individual unhappiness, or the way that he brings together four different experiences of this to create an intertwining story like none I have ever read before; but that he manages to do so without ever trivialising the characters’ evident pain and seeming hopelessness. It undoubtedly takes a certain level of insight and empathy for a literary writer to recount such sensitive and personal sentiments while maintaining the artistic integrity of separating oneself from their work, but Hornby somehow manages to do this perfectly.
Perhaps it would be possible for someone to read this book and completely disagree with me on this; whether this be because they do not think Hornby understands what truly drives people to suicide, or why some eventually change their minds about it. This is perfectly understandable, of course, and I too have read books where I have felt frustrated and sometimes even angered by how I felt the author had misunderstood the topic they were writing about. However, in this case, every other line I read spoke to me in a way that only literature really can, and I definitely returned this book to the library with a different perspective on life than when I borrowed it. This, surely, is what reading is all about.
Therefore, if you are a fan of Hornby and have not yet reached this corner of his canon, I recommend doing so. Equally, if you read and enjoyed this book, don’t be tempted to stop there. My favourite thing about Hornby’s novels is that they are so alike in style but different in plot that it is impossible to get bored, but equally as unlikely that you will ever be left disappointed. So, please read this book, it might just change your life. But, whatever you do, do not watch the film.
– Esther Huntington-Whiteley
Featured Image Source: Pexels