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About a Boy - Nick Hornby
Member Name: karenuk
About a Boy - Nick Hornby
Date: 08/07/02, updated on 08/07/02 (519 review reads)
Advantages: a very good read, has depth, easy to get into
Disadvantages: constant comparisons to the film
Until a couple of years ago, I almost always read books written by women. I don’t think this was a conscious decision – although I did hate Charles Dickens and loved Jane Austen in those heady days of A-level English Lit.
But somehow I ended up going through a Deborah Moggach phase and a Mary Wesley phase and a Catherine Cookson phase – and then I began drinking in the long list of female authors in the same way as I consume apparently endless cups of tea every day. In the same way as I would refuse coffee except for the occasional empty vending machine trauma, I knew male authors were around, but they were a last resort and one I didn’t have to venture into very often.
Then I got into Terry Pratchett and the door was open a chink. Not only was he male, he was a blinking good author to boot. Then Ben Elton came along and although he’s nowhere near my favourite author, I have enjoyed brief forays into his world of infertility and reality TV. I suppose it was only inevitable that another man would sneak in somewhere.
It’s all Hugh Grant’s fault – and Ophelia (That’s ‘Offy’ Ophelia, not Emily ‘Ophelia’). You see, I rather fancy Hugh so went to see About A Boy at the cinema, which was excellent. Ophelia had just finished reading the book version by Nick Hornby and offered to pass it on to me to read. How could I refuse a free book and one highly recommended by a good friend?
When the book arrived, I was rather taken by the front cover – an interesting mix of matte and gloss, rather arty looking in an understated kind of way. The word ‘boy’ is written in a kind of newspaper cut-out way and the ‘O’ is definitely from a Rolo packet, but I can’t place the ‘B’ and the ‘Y’ rather irritatingly. (Help!)
But as you know, you should never judge a book by its fonts. Would the content be anything wort
hwhile inside or did Hugh Grant turn a mediocre novel into a better than average film?
I was surprised how easy it was to get into. For a book that has more levels than your average department store, it is never a hard book to workout; you don’t have to repeatedly read paragraphs, brow furrowing in concentration until you get the message. It has quite short chapters, is easy to read but deep in meaning.
The idea of writing a book like this seems a strange one at first. A grown-up single man in his thirties ends up all matey with a twelve-year-old social outcast of a lad. The boy (Marcus) goes round to the man’s (Will) house a lot, even though they’re not related. You see what I mean, I’m sure.
But of course, it isn’t like that. It’s never seedy. You never feel uncomfortable, it ends up being the most natural thing in the world. Hornby creates the characters so well that when the boy’s mother suggests the ‘pervert’ scenario to the man, you are just as outraged as he is!
As I have seen the film, it was only natural that Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz would star throughout the novel. It was Hugh’s sexy accent, Toni’s strange clothing apparel and Rachel’s dreamy brown eyes that the words produced in my head. When Marcus had glasses in the book, they disappeared and became Nicholas’ strange eyes and basin bowl haircut instead.
Whether this can be perceived as a success of the film or failure of the book, I don’t know. I don’t care either. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book, it enhanced it. I didn’t need to discover what the characters looked like, I knew.
The story introduces Will and Marcus independently. Will is a man of leisure. In fact, that’s the nearest he comes to having a line of work. Living off the royalties from a naff Christmas song written by his Dad, he ha
s the means to do pretty much anything he wants. This means seeing each day as being comprised of separate half-hour units which he fills with life-enhancing events – getting his hair cut, listening to Nirvana and watching Countdown.
Marcus is a screwed-up little boy. Raised by a depressive mother, he doesn’t know whether his Mum will be ecstatically happy or literally crying into her cereal. He has recently moved to London and hates school, where his little idiosyncrasies stand out more than a nice day in a British Summer.
Will doesn’t seem to want, need or miss anything. It is only by meeting Marcus that he realises how little substance he really had before. In the same way, Marcus learns about himself too and realises he has the strength and depth he thought had eluded him.
Their two lives are worlds apart and it seems unimaginable that they would ever meet. The story is very clever in the events that unfold, as it seems only natural that they meet, never convoluted. In real life too, you end up at a destination only through a unique set of twists, turns and dead-ends.
The book is often funny, but usually a wry grin, not a great belly laugh. It is very clever though. It makes you think, without those flashing lights you get in some classics that seem to say ‘Clever bit coming up, concentrate!’
No, this is more like a wonderfully constructed documentary that you lose yourself in, only to realise at the end of it that you actually learnt rather a lot too. If the education system could bottle this, school would be much more fun.
This is an easy book to start reading and a hard one to stop – which surely must be the best kind of books. The plot is full of clever little bits that you need to read for yourself, so I won’t give them away now. You know the basic idea, I’m recommending the book to you –what have you got to lose?
For those that have seen
the film, the book is better in most respects. There are obviously omissions made – you wouldn’t expect every scene to be in the film version – but strangely, there are also a couple of added scenes in the movie that aren’t in the book. Most noticeably, that embarrassing concert scene isn’t there - but there’s a whole bit about a train journey to Cambridge with Ellie which I can’t remember from the film.
Anyway, see the film, read the book. I enjoyed them both. I’ve got a hunch this won’t be the last Nick Hornby book I read either – Ophelia has already offered to let me have High Fidelity. Yes, please, Ophelia ;)