"Even bad times have good things in them to make you feel alive".
I started reading Nick Hornby after I stumbled upon Juliet, Naked at The Last Word bookstore and the primary reason for buying his book was the cover. What has a book cover got to do with the book itself, you may ask? And my reply is: plenty. For starters, the book looks good on the bedside table and on a very subconscious level, attracts the reader. Of course, a serious reader never judges a book by its cover, figuratively speaking that is!
A Long Way Down is about four people who become friends for the most unlikely reason; suicide. What makes the book an interesting read is the first-person narrative style, each character carries the story forward from his/her own perspective. All four characters; Martin, Jess, Maureen and JJ come to the rooftop of Toppers House, a building in London, on New Year’s Eve with the intention of committing suicide. Their intention is not fulfilled as they end up bumping into each other. Notes are exchanged; briefly, on their respective intentions for committing suicide and from there starts the most unlikely of relationships.
These four form a friendship which, in ordinary circumstances, was far from possible. Martin is a celebrity (of sorts); a morning show host who was involved in a sex scandal which led to imprisonment, estrangement from his family and no career. Maureen, a middle age single mother of an invalid son Matty – a son who can neither walk, talk, nor do any of the things that normal kids do. Jess is a rebellious teenager; she swears (a lot), hates school and education in general and is in a mess after her elder sister, Jen, disappeared. And JJ, an American, is a musician (a failed one at that) who loves to read and happens to be in London with the hope of re-uniting with his ex-girlfriend. Quite an odd quartet you’d agree?!
The book touches not so much on themes of suicide but more on failure, un-fulfilled expectations, broken dreams and false hopes. Each of the character feels life has dealt an unfair blow to them but each one also accepts his/her own actions for landing in the mess they find themselves in. What does this new friendship do for them? Does it, eventually, make things better? Not really and that’s what makes the story so real. Hornby’s characters are solid, they actually read like real individuals. They come from four different walks of life and represent four different mindsets, lifestyles and social strata of Londoners. Read Hornby’s interview on this book here.
There is no moral to the story or a happy (or, for that matter, sad) end. The ending is left to your imagination. And here is my opinion on it; a) most people are unhappy, generally and b) its not everyone’s cup of tea to commit suicide and most importantly c) suicide should never be an option.
And don’t worry; this book will not lead you to the top of Habib Bank Plaza (it’s one of the tallest buildings in Karachi!).
Note: Johnny Depp liked the book so much he bought the rights to it for a movie before the book was published (Source: Wikipedia). How cool is that?!
Photograph: Google Images