Another book I’ve recently read is Nick Hornby’s latest novel. ‘A Long Way Down’ is about four strangers who meet on top of a tower block on New Year’s Eve, all intent on jumping to their deaths. They don’t manage to commit group suicide, although some are more keen than others, but they do succeed in having a series of interchanges, some inane, others hilarious, many plain sad, that form the backbone of the book.
The four characters couldn’t be more disparate – a disgraced TV celebrity, a disaffected teenage girl with stalking tendencies, a failed musician and a single mother with a severely disabled son. They have nothing in common but their need to end it all. After agreeing not to kill themselves that night (who wants to be watched, after all?), they keep meeting up to talk about when and whether they should.
Many of their conversations are very, very funny. This is partly because their differences rub up against each so comically, but also because Hornby’s ear for dialogue is spot-on. And there are a lot of suicide jokes. The plot starts to romp slightly out of control when they fake an angelic intervention in order to entice the gutter press, but it works, and the four use the proceeds of the story to go on holiday together to Tenerife. This is where the group starts to unravel: one wants to drink beer all day and do drugs all night, another wants to retire to his room to drink bottles of Scotch all alone, another wants to get laid while the fourth enjoys a good book and the free buffet. A gang they aren’t, but alive they are.
I envy Hornby his writing style. He writes so lightly, as if he whipped up the book during the course of a quiet weekend, that it makes reading a pleasure. He sustains the comedy brilliantly, without ever allowing any of the characters to become stereotypes. I came away feeling as if I had made four new friends.