Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Long Way Down: A Review

A book about four people who went up to a rooftop on New Year's Eve to commit suicide but abandoned the idea and formed an unlikely alliance: Who wants to read a book like that? Wouldn't being in the heads of not one, but four, suicidal people be depressing? And if there is any light-heartedness or humor or cleverness, wouldn't it get old or annoying after a few pages?

That Nick Hornby can avoid these and other pitfalls of a book with this premise makes him a hero-author to me.

I was engaged throughout the book. The writing is authoritative (a novel told in four first-persons point-of-view had better exude authority) without being arrogant. Morality was something that was touched on often, but never with a heavy hand.

When people contemplate suicide and life, they are bound to have many moments of reflection and rumination, yet none of it in the book is announced and treated as Deep Thought Moments. The characters wondered about things, observed the newest unexpected turn of events, and came to certain conclusions, but these moments never felt contrived or overwrought. And while some of the events seemed bizarre, they didn't feel forced.

At the Lit Lab yesterday, the topic was on novel structure and the reinvention of the form. (They are much more articulate over there and you should read the post and the comments.)

I am not convinced that A Long Way Down qualifies as a novel that broke the mold but its form was most definitely the outcome of the story. Because it didn't follow any formula that I recognized, my reading experience was an adventure. I was never quite sure what the next chapter would bring but I didn't care. I did not miss having any idea about where the story would lead; I just wanted to follow it as it unfolded. The anticipation and fulfillment were often very satisfying.

I am going to check out more Hornby books. I don't know what to expect, but I secretly hope each one will dictate the structure and I will continue to be drawn to pursue what comes next.

Any other Hornby fans out there? Detractors?


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've been meaning to read Hornby, and once even picked up a copy of this book in the store but didn't end up buying it. I'll have to check it out. Sooooo many books, so little time. I'm impressed by how many you read.

Yat-Yee said...

Let me know what you think after you read one of his books. Yes, so many books, so many other things competing for time.

Domey Malasarn said...

Yat-Yee, thanks for this recommendation. I've been wondering about Hornby for some time, but I've never gotten around to reading or even skimming through any of his books. I guess I've been concerned that it would be too mainstream or something. This makes me think again.

Yat-Yee said...

Since I know we tend to read different types of fiction, what seems unusual to me may be too mainstream for you. I hope you'll like it though.

lotusgirl said...

I really want to read Hornby but keep putting him off because I don't which of his books to start with, and I have so many other books calling my name. Maybe I'll start with this one. It sounds great.

Yat-Yee said...

Lotusgirl: you should my method some time, which is to pull out the book that seems the cleanest from the library shelf! It worked this time!


Wonderful review. Thorough and insightful. I love your comment about Hornby's writing being fresh but not innovative--a nice, clever distinction. Great post.

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, Samuel! I wonder if the others who read it would agree with me. (Hint: those of you who mentioned you're going to read it, please let me know what you think afterwards.

aquafortis said...

I am definitely a fan of Hornby (though I haven't read his YA novel yet)--the first one I read was High Fidelity (which they made a movie out of starring Jon Cusack), and I loved it. A Long Way Down was enjoyable, as was How to Be Good. I haven't read Fever Pitch yet (his soccer-related memoir), though we have it in the house & I liked the Colin Firth movie. :)

I agree that his books are highly enjoyable and interesting and fresh. I think High Fidelity was a bit more innovative than some of his others.