A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the best book about four people not dying that you’ll ever read.
I didn’t know what A Long Way Down was about before I picked it up based on a recommendation. Now that I’ve read it, I’m struggling to describe it. It’s a book about suicide, but it’s not very depressing; it’s also not deeply inspirational–it is very real. It’s a good book, and I think you should read it, and maybe that’s enough of a description.
A Long Way Down centers on four people who each independently decide they would like to kill themselves by jumping off a tall building on New Year’s Eve. Except their individual sojourns are interrupted when the others have the same idea, and they all agree to come down from the building that night. But that’s not really a happy thing; now they’ve even failed at suicide and don’t know what to do with themselves.
It was purely by coincidence that I read this book during Suicide Prevention Week. While I found this book to be an excellent portrayal of deep sadness, it does have its funny parts. That being said, that doesn’t mean suicide is a funny topic, and if you are feeling like ending your life, please seek help. I hesitate to suggest that this book would help you if you were feeling that way, but it might.
Now an aside for writers: Stop what you are doing and pick this book up NOW. You’ll get a look at realistic characters like nothing else. I worship Nick Hornby for this skill. He created four completely individual characters who have very little in common and who feel completely separate.
You’ve got: a narcissistic former TV personality who can’t stop himself from being a screw up; a teenager who is decidedly unhinged and drug-addled; a sad-sack older woman who really needs to get out more; and a wayward American musician who has lost track of his life’s purpose. And it’s amazing.
Another brilliant portion of this book is the way Hornby gives voice to each character, as it is told from four distinct perspectives. This allows the reader to ‘hear’ what a character thinks of himself…and what everyone else thinks of him. It’s genius, and incredibly revealing.
And that says a lot, because I’m struggling to think of much that actually HAPPENS in this book. It never drags–on the contrary, I always looked forward to reading the next page–but an action-filled drama this is not. It’s amazing that so much story could be packed into so little motion. Great swaths of this story take place with people just sitting around a room together awkwardly, and it’s brilliant and perfect.
A Long Way Down is a rather unexpected book, but it provides a great lesson in empathy. In fact, I think that’s the biggest thing I got from this book: the deep and abiding selfishness of suicide. All teenagers and self-absorbed persons should have to read it to learn what this kind of navel-gazing looks like from the outside. It’s marvelous.
A Long Way Down is a great book and I’d recommend it to anybody. I can’t imagine, however, that a non-famous author could ever have gotten this book off the ground–how do you pitch a story about people not dying? Luckily for us, Hornby managed it