Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

A Long Way Down

Nick Hornby

Penguin 2005

Nick Hornbys latest novel is an easy to read, moderately amusing lightweight full of his usual entertaining references to popular culture. Whats unusual about it is that its all about suicide.

Toppers House is a tower block in London, notorious for the number of people whove leaped from its roof. On New Years Eve (apparently a suicide peak hour, along with Christmas and Valentines Day), four self-destructive individuals turn up there at the same time. They get talking and end up forming an informal self-help group, examining each others reasons for wanting to end it all. Theres a slimy, disgraced talk show host, a failed rock muso, a middle-aged woman whose whole life revolves around her disabled son, and a foul-mouthed girl in rebellion against her politician father: ...this girl talked like shed been brought up by a penniless junkie welfare mother who was younger than her. She acted like education was a form of prostitution, something that only the weird or the desperate would resort to.

The four characters take turns at telling the story, trying to explain their motives and to help the others. Hornbys greatest strength is in these very believable voices. They talk like people weve met, even when discussing the big issues. The muso invents a God-like wish-giver called Cosmic Tony Blair, then tries to persuade the other three to read books by literary suicides. Hes unsuccessful: Why does reading freak people out so much? Sure, I could be pretty anti-social when we were on the road, but if I was playing a Gameboy hour after hour, no-one would be on my case. In my social circle, blowing up space monsters is socially acceptable in a way that reading isnt. I was spending my days with someone who thought that poets were creatures you might find living in your lower intestine.

Fans of Hornbys earlier work (High Fidelity, About A Boy) will enjoy the dark humour here, that peculiarly British type of comedy, steeped in awkwardness and misunderstanding. Anyone feeling their life isnt worth living may reconsider after reading this book. Hornby is sympathetic towards those of us who dont cope, while providing what that great London poet Ian Dury called Reasons to Be Cheerful.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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