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A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby

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Author: Nick Hornby / Genre: Fiction

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    10 Reviews
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      11.01.2012 13:18

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      great funny book

      I love this book, I normally read crime novels but thought I would give this ago and try something different, I found the whole book very funny and was laughing out loud at some parts. There are three main characters Martin, Jess, Maurine and JJ who are all completely different to each other but end up becoming friends when they all meet up on new years eve whilst planning to commit suicide (strange start for a humerous book I know). each character has their own problems and they all end up becoming involved in each others lives. For me the story line is good however there arent any massive events what makes the book is how funny it is. If you are easily offended I wouls steer clear of this book because their is a lot of bad language and views that some people may not agree with. I have tried other Nick Hornby books and not liked them, I would say that this one is quite different to others.

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      03.04.2010 16:33
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      A lively and original novel

      ** Synopsis **

      It's New Year's Eve, and 51-year-old Maureen, the single mother of a profoundly disabled son, is about to kill herself. But when she arrives on the roof of the well-known north London suicide spot Topper's House, it turns out she's not the only person planning to plunge 15 stories to her death. In fact, you could say it's quite crowded up there. Maureen is joined by a washed-up former TV presenter who has just come out of jail, a wannabe rock singer whose band and relationship have both just split up and a foulmouthed teenage girl with anger management problems. Despite their very different backgrounds and situations, the four unhappy people form an unlikely alliance and spend the next few months trying to work out whether there's any point attempting to turn their lives around, or whether they should return to Topper's House and finish what they started.


      ** My opinion **

      Suicide is a really unusual subject for a comic novel and you certainly can't accuse Nick Hornby of lacking originality on this score. It was probably partly due to the unusual theme of the novel and partly thanks to the cult status of Hornby's previous books that A Long Way Down was released in a blaze of publicity in 2005. For a long time the hype surrounding the book put me off reading it, and it was only this week that I decided to put aside my cynicism and pick it up. And guess what? I'm glad I did.

      The novel is narrated in the first person; the perspective switches between the four main characters every page or so, which makes for a sense of immediacy and a very lively and engaging read, especially since they often address the reader directly as they recount their stories. The characters have very different voices, so it's usually easy to keep track of who is narrating at any particular moment: there's the pompous, fake-tanned, middle-class-and-proud-of it Martin, a one-time breakfast TV presenter who disgraced himself by sleeping with a 15-year-old (she'd claimed to be 16). His subsequent 3 months in jail robbed him of his wife, children, career and self-respect. Meanwhile, Maureen is a middle-aged woman whose life stopped in her early 30s, when her fiancé left her to bring up their disabled son single-handedly. JJ is an American who came to England for love - and is now on his own: unhappy, unqualified for anything and unable to get any work apart from delivering pizzas. Jess, the youngest of the group, appears to be suffering from a simple broken heart, but it turns out her problems run much deeper than that.

      What I really appreciated about this novel was its lack of schmaltz and sentimentality. The group of potential suicides don't all become friends and persuade each other they have everything to live for. In fact, they don't get on that well and don't even like each other; the only reason they keep meeting is because they are all in desperate situations and don't have anyone else to turn to. There are some scenes where the four protagonists are actually extremely nasty to each other. Jess warns the reader quite early on that we shouldn't expect a typical happy ending, and there are various sarcastic allusions throughout the novel to soppy films and inspirational storybooks and how unrealistic their plots are.

      I found the voices of Jess and JJ quite irritating at first; they seemed like a poorer version of Holden Caulfield from A Catcher in the Rye and I got the impression that Hornby wasn't entirely comfortable writing from Jess and JJ's perspectives. Similarly, I didn't find the voice of Maureen that authentic at the beginning either, and there were points throughout the novel where I thought her naivety was a little too far-fetched to be true to life. As the novel progressed, though, Hornby seems to settle into the four different characters and I found the second half a lot easier to read in this respect. The character of Martin, on the other hand, was absolutely spot-on from beginning to end - his character's oily smugness comes across really well.

      In general, I'd say the second half of the novel is much more satisfying than the first, as we know more about the characters and the plot really gets moving. Although I found it a good strategy on Hornby's part to reveal more about the characters bit by bit rather than all at once over the first few pages, I did feel that the story dragged a little at the beginning. The few laugh-out-loud moments for me also came towards the end of the novel. I didn't find much to chuckle at in the first half, which I was a bit disappointed with, as I'd found other writing by Hornby (e.g. How to be Good) extremely funny.

      In conclusion, this is not a book that tells people how to avoid suicide; it's not even particularly philosophical on the topic. It's more an account of four everyday people, their problems, and the options they have for overcoming their despair. The novel might appear to make light of suicide but doesn't go as far as mocking those who do take that way out, and the reader is left with the overall impression that suicide is a very sad thing that shouldn't be joked about. While I didn't find this book as funny or as deep as some of Nick Hornby's other novels, it was a good, solid, entertaining read.

      ** The Penguin paperback has 257 pages and slightly too-small print **

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        06.08.2009 11:11
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        Great read

        This was the first Nick Hornby novel that I had read and while I was expecting a dour read, I got anything but. This book made me laugh more than anything else I've ever read!

        The plot is about four suicidal people from all walks of life - A washed-up TV presenter, a mother with a disabled child, a bummed out rockstar wannabe and a spoilt little girl.

        They all meet at Toppers House - one of the block houses in London where suicidal people choose to jump off. When they all get to the top however, they start wanting to protect themselves and eachother leading to them talking eachother down from the top.

        The unlikely friends try to help each other through the tough situation, but somehow make it worse...

        The book is written in a clever way with the perspective changing each time one of the characters thinks something. This introduces four distinct voices to the book, which really livens up the prose. You can almost hear the accents of the people speaking when you read the text - its brilliant.

        The book is too short if anything - it took me just two days to read - somewhat of a record for me, who usually only reads a bit each day. This book though - well I just couldn't put it down.

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        05.08.2009 21:45
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        Another brilliant novel from Mr Hornby

        This paperback sat gathering dust on my bookshelf for a considerable period of time before I actually read it for the first time. The reason for this was the subject matter (depression/suicide). I perceived that the story would be an assault on my emotions and that was not something that I looked forward to.

        The Author
        Nick Hornby is a British novelist who has written a string of highly acclaimed bestsellers including Fever Pitch, About A Boy, High Fidelity (these 3 all having made into big-screen feature films), How To Be Good and 31 Songs. His novels are typically very accessible, laced with humour (often of the blacker variety) and well crafted. He is a master of expressive language and you can almost feel his characters' passion, angst, joy and despair. Many stories are set in London, with the 30 something middle classes featuring prominently.

        I'm a big fan of Mr Hornby and that's why A Long Way Down made it into my bookcase in the first place.

        The Storyline
        From the rooftop of a certain London tower block, it is most definitely a long way down. Anyone who has sunk to the depths where they consider ending it all, by flinging themselves from said rooftop, have also come, mentally, a long way down.

        The rooftop in question has acquired the nickname "Toppers' House" as it famous as a suicide spot. If you take the, quick, long way down from Toppers' House, there's no coming back.

        Up on the Toppers' House roof on New Year's Eve, we're introduced to Martin Sharp, an ex-mainstream TV presenter who has brought disgrace on himself and lost most everything that he holds dear. He's going to put himself out of his misery by taking a leap.

        But hang on, he's not alone. First a woman, in her late middle age, appears -she has the same intention as Martin. Her name is Maureen and her visit to the upper limits of Toppers' had been meticulously planned. She engages in contact with a slightly inebriated, swearing, Martin. Soon a third person, a young woman by the name of Jess crashes the 'party' and to top it off (sorry, couldn't resist that one) thirty-something American pizza delivery man JJ arrives on the scene.

        These are the 4 protagonists. The story is written so that each character relays their tale in the first person, in chunks ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages. Martin will tell the reader about his history, his problems and his interaction with the other three main charcters. Maureen, Jess and JJ each do the same. You switch from one character to another, all the while piecing together the individual's reasons for being up on that roof (I don't want to spoil the plot by giving any of this detail away) and the relationship that builds between these brothers in arms.

        The four leads do bond in an alliance which offers hope and a future (that doesn't involve suicide). They are intentionally very different people and you can never imagine them socialising in otherwise 'normal' circumstances.

        Hornby does take you on a rollercoaster ride where the starting point is despair and your emotions are jarred by every unexpected turn and jolt. Why were these people on the roof that night?, what are their stories?, will their togetherness lead to ultimate salvation? - these are just some of the main questions that I was asking myself as I progressed through A Long Way Down.

        My conclusion
        It didn't take me long to plough through this 257 page paperback. The characters were real to me (Hornby has that knack) and although they weren't heroic or indeed particularly likeable individuals, I did care about them and had empathy for their predicaments.

        This an extremely well thought out and constructed book, written in the style of a modern-day literary master. Hornby doesn't do formulaic, he's no friend of the comfort zone, he's a class act. If you're seeking a story with violence, fast-paced action and wild passion then this isn't that story. If you want a modern-day tale of real people with true emotions the I recommend A Long Way Down.

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          25.02.2009 10:53
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          Worth a read!

          I haven't been in much of a reading mood so far this year, for some unknown reason I just cannot be bothered, and I have spent hours on the train sat staring into space and wishing I was in the mood to read more. Anyway, when the charity book list came round at work I made the effort to buy two books at just 25p each, and one of these was "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby.

          Anyway, I began the book with no preconceived ideas, and pleasantly surprised I was!


          ---Nick Hornby---

          I'd never read any of Nick Hornby's stuff before, although of course have seen the film "About a Boy" numerous times which is based on his book of the same name - it's virtually impossible to watch TV in the UK and not have seen this film as it seems to be on at least 3 times a week.

          Nick Hornby has written various fiction and non-fiction books, and anthologies. "A Long Way Down" is his fourth novel and was published in 2005.


          ---My Book---

          My copy of the book is paperback and 256 pages long with a bright orangey-red cover.


          ---The Story---

          It's New Year's Eve, and 4 stranger's paths cross on top of Toppers' House, a renowned suicide hotspot in North London. Tonight's the night they're going to end their lives, or were going to until they met each other, and formed a strange sort of 'gang'!

          Martin - Martin had it all - wife, kids, nice house, well paid job as presenter on a popular breakfast TV show. However his life changed when he slept with a 15 year old girl (he thought she was 16 you see), ended up in prison, lost the wife, the kids, and the job. His life is a mess, and being 'famous' everyone knows about it, there's no escape, except for suicide.

          Maureen - Poor Maureen, in her fifties, and alone in life except for her severely disabled son Matty, a result of the one and only time she had sex 20 or so years ago. Her life basically consists of cleaning up Matty's sh*t, and going to church (although even thewre she doesn't really feel that she fits in). It really is a sorry existence, and it's no wonder that she wants to end it all.

          Jess - 18 years old, Jess is the youngest of the group. With severe mood swings, Jess is a liability and could kill herself at any minute. Having just split up with her boyfriend Chas, Jess is suicidal since she hasn't had an explanation from him. However, there's more to her situation than that - family issues which have sent her off the rails a bit.

          JJ - JJ is from the US. He was in a band, and had a girlfriend. Now he is delivering pizzas to Toppers' House (well you might as well eat pizza before you jump). Does he really have a reason to want to end it all in comparison to the others? Does it really matter? The fact is that he does want to.

          Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ have a bond. It's not your usual friendship. It's not even a group of people supporting each other through emotional distress - in fact they have nothing in common (aside from the suicide thing) and don't even like each other. However, since New Year's Eve they are linked, and the story is about this relationship which they share for the following months.


          ----More about the book---

          The book is written in sections (rather than chapters) of several pages, narrated by the four characters - each has a different writing style which reflects their characters. However, there were a couple of times when I had to check who it was talking. There book is sturctured into three parts.

          To say more would be to give away the plot. There are funny moments and moments of despair. I wouldn't say it's a book which will help suicidal people see that there is suddenly a reason for living (that's not really its purpose). However, there are some parts which might provoke thoughts about how things can get better. Despite the serious subject matter it is a fairly light read. I got through the book over the course of 2 days, so it's definitely an easy read.

          I felt varying degrees of sympathy and empathy for the characters (and I can relate to a lot of the feelings on a personal level) - but none of them really stand out. I mean, Maureen seems to have the worst situation. But even so, it's quite frustrating that she's never done anything about it before. A lot of the problems the characters seem to have brought on themselves...but then that's the case with life really.

          Frustrating as it is, and unrealistic as the story is - it is just that, a story. So, there's not too much point dwelling on the ins and outs of it!


          ---Finally---

          Nick Hornby is an excellent writer - black humour, just how I like it! I feel that the book would appeal to those who like writers such as Ben Elton, Rob Grant and Andrew Holmes (3 of my favourite writers). But I'd say that even if you're not a Ben Elton fan you should still give it a go.

          Since reading this I have been on BookMooch (a site where you give away books you don't want and get books you do want) and have ordered "About A Boy" and "How to Be Good" also by Nick Hornby. Nothing better to get me back into a reading mood than finding a new author - well, new to me anyway!

          It's available on Amazon for £5.99.

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            27.01.2009 21:28
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            Well worth a look

            It's New Year's Eve, and it's a prime time for the suicides to make their way to the roof of Toppers' House, which is by definition London's most popular suicide spot. And on this particular New Year's Eve you are introduced to four strangers all in the same boat of hitting that point in their lives when they just can't go on anymore.

            Martin Sharp is a disgraced TV presenter after sleeping with a 15 year old, and losing everything - the kids, wife, house, career. His life is already over, and this is just the logical response to what his life has turned into. Maureen who has a severely disabled son at home who is well past the age at which most kids fly away, but Matty can't even talk. Jess is the steotypical teenager who seems to be overacting to everything, quite drunk by this point, she is perfectly prepared to fly. Then there is JJ, who originally looks like he's delivering pizza...but is in the same mess as the rest of them.

            These four people, who have never met before in their lives, who only moments ago were perfectly willing to throw themselves off the roof top, share out the pizza and start to talk...not that this changes anything, as they are all so different that they have just about nothing in common. But it does lead to an interesting chain of events, which leads to the rest of the book.

            The first bit of this book was by far the most interesting, as Hornby seems to lose track of things about half way through. But it is still an interesting, funny and moving book which is well worth a look. Just don't pay £17.99 for a hard back.

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            12.06.2008 21:50
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            Not a bad way to pass the time

            New Years Eve is a time for sentimental losers to think about topping themselves apparently and where better than the well known suicide hotspot Toppers House. Unfortunately it's a bit popular at that time of year which is why four potential suicidees all meet up on the roof ready to do the deed but end up instead finding out about each other and heading off the roof to help the youngest and craziest of them find her ex. Will their new found 'friendship' be enough to stop them ending their lives?

            The four characters are Martin; an erstwhile breakfast tv presenter, married with children, who has shagged a fifteen year old and been destroyed by the taloids as a result. Maureen; a middle aged woman who is sole carer for her severely disabled adult son. Jess; a young troubled girl and JJ; the coolest of the bunch who is fed up because he has split with his girlfriend and his band.

            Good comic writing from Hornby as usual, although I found the characters a little less engaging than in some of his previous work. Similar themes and some repetition of earlier work in the characters I felt, for example that JJ was too much like the main character in High Fidelity. Still, stick to what you know and what sells, why not, it's not a bad book, although neither is it inspirational. Easy to get into and will be likely to provide a few smiles and cheer you up if you feel like topping yourself. Light reading and satirical observation from one of the UK's most popular authors.

            I got mine from the read it swap it website but it is available on Amazon for £5.99 new or from a penny used and new. My copy published 2006 by Penguin with 272 pages.

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              05.04.2008 14:56
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              Dark humour surrounding suicide

              Nothing like a good old taboo to get the juices flowing.

              Mr Hornby (first name Nick) is one of the more observant writers I know of. Yeah ok, so I'm not the most well read person in the world so there are probably others who make him seem like he goes around with blinkers on, but he always manages to hit the nail on the head with the people he creates.

              Another talent of his is not really having a point to his stories and all at the same time having an incredibly captivating, involving read.

              It would be very hard to describe the story without giving too much away (mainly because I HATE spoilers), so I refuse to go into detail (down goes the helpfulness of this review!)

              So this is all you are getting. Four rather suicidal strangers meet and try their best to work out how best to get on with life.

              Hey, I said it would be brief!
              "A long way down" is written from the perspective of four very different people. Hornby has brilliantly captured the personalities of these four people just by letting them tell their story in their own words. These people are talking directly to you whether you like it or not.

              Firstly we have Martin, who is well educated, a tad famous and a bit of an arsehole (his words, not mine). His narration is possibly the easiest to stomach as it tends to be written more as a writer would narrate a story. Real words, proper punctuation, intellectual comments.

              Maureen is next to arrive on the scene. She is a lot quieter, far too easily impressed by anything and tends to be a little bit of a prude. She's also rather god-fearing to boot. I found her narrative the most comical of the four possibly because she is so naive. Not to mention she will actively censor any bad language in the conversations she narrates to us.

              Hot on Maureen's' heels is Jess. Possibly the embodiment of everything I dislike in a person, her narrative was irritating as hell, difficult to stick with without wanting to scream...or punctuate...or jump into the book and slap her about. I am, however, aware that this is the image Hornby was going for with Jess. It nearly made me stop reading (and on many occasions made me put the book down) but I eventually got over it (much like those in the book started to just ignore most of what she said.) Despite this, the girl actually became quite a likeable person...in the sense that you only wanted to strangle her a little bit.

              Last but by no means least is JJ. The American. His narrative is some where between Martin and Jess in that it is at times quite profound and the guy can use full stops, but he has his moments where he skips off to the land of "Oh-dear-I'm-Going-to-use-LIKE-as-every-second-word" with Jess.

              Personally, I found the whole story quite uplifting. Maybe because I'm not half as screwed up as any of the characters, maybe because a lot of what is said makes a lot of sense. So suicide isn't the HAPPIEST subject to read about. There are however some great comedy moments laced throughout the book rather subtly.
              Price wise, as usual you aren't going to break the bank with one of Hornby's books, the RRP on this is £7.99 (paperback)

              As for those who will judge by the cover (such as myself) it continues the theme of previous books by Hornby therefore creating a nice little bundle of unity on your bookshelf (assuming you go buy any other titles, which you really should you know)
              The only thing I didn't really like about this book is that Facebook kept messaging me to tell me I'd been reading it for more than two weeks. I'm not a fast reader!! IS IT A CRIME!? No!!! Get off my back!

              Overall a fantastic, very different read that I would recommend to anyone. Just try not to let Jess put you off.


              *review also on Ciao*

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                14.05.2006 11:59
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                A hilarious book on a very depressing subject

                A Long Way Down is the latest in a string of big hit books written by the oh-so witty Nick Hornby. Previous titles you may have heard of include About A Boy, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. If you have read any of his books before then you will already know how funny this guy is. If you haven’t then I suggest you find out.

                This story tackles one of the most morbid of subjects in one of the most hilarious, yet poignant, ways. At times you will be sat almost crying at the tragedy of a situation whilst, at others, you will be laughing out loud, to the amusement of others, at the sheer stupidity of another.

                The story comprises of four main characters and they are Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ. Each of the four characters is hell bent on suicide and this is, most definitely, the only thing they have in common. Never before have I known four such diverse characters flung together in such a way. The relationships that exist between the four are most strange.

                THE MAIN CHARACTERS

                Martin

                Martin is a former breakfast TV presenter who has recently been released from prison after serving a stretch for sleeping with a fifteen year old. As if that wasn’t bad enough on its own, he was married at the time. Subsequently his marriage broke down and his wife wanted nothing to do with him. On top of this he had two daughters who he very rarely saw and I get the impression he found it difficult to see them as he was so embarrassed.

                He is very sarcastic throughout the book and displays a cocky sort of attitude to a lot of situations. He is a reasonably bright man who chose the wrong path in life. Since his release from prison he has been the subject of a torrent of abuse from complete strangers and now he feels like there is no point in living. He sees this as facing up to his responsibilities when, in reality, he is just running away from them as he so often does.

                Maureen

                Maureen is a middle aged mother of a disabled kid who can do nothing for himself. He cannot even talk. After being the unlucky victim of falling pregnant on her first, and only ever, time her then bloke did the typical bloke thing and ran a mile, never to be seen again. A few months later Maureen discovered she was pregnant. A devout Catholic girl, Maureen harboured deep feelings of guilt about the situation and, when Matty (her son) was born the way he was, she blamed herself for her situation declaring it was God’s punishment for her sin.

                Throughout the story we are constantly reminded of Maureen’s dislike for the use of swear words. She is a very timid character. Having been shut up in her own house with just Matty for company for so many years she has grown apart from the world that we live in. She is totally alienated to modern life and provides a complete contrast to all three of the other characters.



                JJ

                JJ is yet another very different character within the novel. He is an American former member of a rock band that never quite made it. His whole life is music and he came over to England in the hope of elevating his career. He met a girl who he fell in love with but, when his rock band split up due to a lack of funds and limited success, he split with his girlfriend and ended up working as a pizza delivery guy.

                JJ finds this life unbearable. He has never prepared for the eventuality that he will never make it as a star and feels cheated by life. His working visa has expired and he cannot work legally in the country but doesn’t have the funds to return home either. He is in the worst possible catch 22 he could imagine. Life is one long miserable day after another for him and he feels totally isolated in a strange country with no friends and no girl.

                Jess

                Jess is the young rebel within the group. Every other word is a swear word and she is the complete contrast to Maureen. She is inconsiderate about peoples’ feelings and is very immature in the way that she behaves. If there is a wrong thing to say then you can guarantee that Jess will say it.

                The root of Jess’ problems seems to be that she feels she doesn’t fit in. Her sister disappeared totally a couple of years previous and, although her car was discovered abandoned, has never been found. She has recently split up with her boyfriend Chas and he won’t give her the time of day so she has no idea why they have split. She struggles to keep hold of friends who seem to tire with her offensive outbursts and radical views.

                THE PLOT

                The relationship that exists between these four characters is an awkward, yet totally hilarious, one. There are constant arguments between the four and it seems as if no friendship could ever exist between four such different personalities. There is something, however, that draws them together and bonds them.

                The story starts out with Martin sitting on the ledge of the roof of Toppers’ House. It is named this because it is the local hotspot for suicides. He has been knocking back the booze for some time, readying himself for the big jump. As he is about to take the plunge, Maureen stumbles upon the same roof and, after having watched him for some time, decides to speak to him.

                Martin is startled and it seems the time has gone. Maureen says that she wants to use his ladder after him so that she can go the same way. Martin doesn’t want an audience so after a humorous exchange they decide that Maureen can go first. As soon as Martin has climbed back over the railings onto the roof Jess turns up, typically behaving like a nutter.

                Being of such a young age, Martin and Maureen decide that she has too much to waste and refuse to let her do it. Jess has never had suicidal thoughts before but has been at a party in the building in the hope of finding Chas. When he doesn’t turn up she gets the whimsical idea to go up onto the roof and jump. I truly believe that she never had a true intention, though it is impossible to tell with such an unstable character.

                As the argument ensues, enter JJ. He is working as a pizza delivery guy and is supposed to be delivering a pizza to the party that Jess has been at but has decided to survey the roof first, with a view to jumping himself. After much deliberation the four decide that maybe it might be a good idea to tell each other why they are up there. At this point it is obvious none of them are going to actually jump. After some time they decide to make a pact to meet up there again on Valentines’ night – the next most common night for suicides.

                From this point we are treated to many humorous conflicts between the four as they depend on each other more than they thought they ever could. Four people who would never give each other the time of day have suddenly been flung together with only the one thing in common.

                All this happens within the first twenty pages or so, so you can be safe in the knowledge that I haven’t spoilt the plot. The book itself is about two hundred and fifty pages long in small print and it took me about ten hours to read in three sittings. I found each time I picked the book up I read about eighty pages before forcing myself to put it down.

                I loved the style in which the book was written. Every couple of pages we would have each character’s take on a situation, in the first person narrative, and they would reveal a little more about themselves each time. It was refreshing to read a book laid out in this way and was a totally new experience for me.

                The thing that captivated me most, I think, was that Nick Hornby has managed to create four such diverse characters yet, each time he switched between characters, there was a definite different tone to each character. The attitude, phraseology and ideas of each character were totally evident.

                Having been depressed for a long while not so long ago, and having suicidal ideas, the idea of this book had me captivated anyway. It is obvious that the author would have spoken to people who have been in this situation to explore the thought process and feelings experienced at their times of need. There were several passages that I could identify with and at one point he hit the nail square on the head. It was like reading my thoughts written by somebody who had never met me.

                The passage in question is about a third of the way through the book when JJ reveals his innermost thoughts about the idea of suicide. He says, “A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they’ve all let him down.”

                VERDICT

                I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely read it again one day. I would highly recommend it to everybody. It is a story of good triumphing over bad and draws people to show more concern for others – this sort of thing could happen to anybody, as demonstrated by Hornby’s choice of such different characters. I really enjoyed the layout of the book and I thought his writing style was marvellous. I cannot wait to read more of his books as this one kept me captivated from start to finish.

                9.5/10

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                  10.11.2005 17:16
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                  funny and readable, but not his best and certainly no literary great

                  The premise of Nick Hornby's new novel is a tenuous one: four strangers meet on New Year's Eve at the top of a tower block known locally as 'Toppers' House'. Each one has ended up there with the intention of hurling themselves over the edge. First up, best planned, and closest to the edge is Martin - a disgraced tv personality - whose last minutes of solitude are disturbed by Maureen who has been looking forward to this event for months. Next comes Jess, who hurtles across the roof in a spur of the moment rush of teenage angst. And last up, to discover Maureen and Martin sitting on Jess to stop her jumping, is JJ - failed musician and pizza boy. What is the etiquette here? Turn a blind eye? Try and talk someone else out of doing what you yourself are set on?

                  This unlikely quartet take some time out from their planned leaps to the concrete below to eat the pizza that JJ is carrying, and give Hornby his first opportunity to start to live up to the blurb on the book jacket about 'answering the big questions about life and death…'. Sadly this is just the beginning of a long, uninspiring and unbelievable story. The four agree not to jump, and this bond keeps them together over the next three months and the duration of the story.

                  There is humour that emanates from just how different to each other these people are. But that's the problem - how on earth does this unlikely grouping manage to keep each away from the ledge of Topper's House again? The distances between them are too great to be waved away by the shared bond of being suicidal. And at points the plot that follows is plain farcical - the media circus is funny, but the joint holiday? The continued revolting and plain spoilt behaviour of Jess? Maureen you feel sorry for - her troubles have been nursed for decades, but all she needs is a few friends to lean on. Martin is a sad creature who has brought everything on himself, but has some opportunities still open to him and people who care. JJ too has a way out he can take. And really, it's very hard to feel sympathy for any of them or believe that any of them would have really jumped.

                  Hornby's writing isn't as perfectly pitched as in previous works. How To Be Good fell short of the mark for me, and this offering hasn't returned him to form. The dialogue works well in places, but the characters aren't fully formed, and the story - designed I am sure to shock with the subject matter - is not engaging or exciting and doesn't serve to make you think anything very deep or profound. A shame. Readable but not anywhere near the level Hornby is capable of.

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                • Product Details

                  Narrated in turns by a dowdy, middle-aged woman, a half-crazed adolescent, a disgraced breakfast TV presenter and an American rock star cum pizza delivery boy, A Long Way Down is the story of the Toppers House Four, aka Maureen, Jess, Martin and JJ. A low-rent crowd with absolutely nothing in common - save where they end up that New Year's Eve night. And what they do next, of course. Funny, sad, and wonderfully humane, Nick Hornby's new novel asks some of the big questions: about life and death, strangers and friendship, love and pain, and whether a slice of pizza can really see you through a long, dark night of the soul.