On New Year's Eve, four strangers find each other on the roof of Topper's House, a popular London suicide spot. There's Martin, a forty-something formerly popular Regis-type television personality who has just been released from prison for sleeping with a fifteen-year-old. Jess's sister disappeared recently and her boyfriend just dumped her. There's JJ, a musician whose band just split up and his girlfriend just left him. And there's Maureen, who had sex once in her life twenty-something years ago and now she's spent her entire adult life taking care of her son, Matty, who's basically been in a coma since birth. On the surface, they have nothing in common. But they were all up there at the same time, for the same reason.
Not an ounce of excess or wasted effort is anywhere in sight. ''A Long Way Down" ought to be required reading for writing students who want to know how to evoke one set of circumstances with its opposite -- how to capture unspeakable pain with humor, how to suggest camaraderie with trenchant, piss-all irony, how to turn a novel based on suicide into a cello suite about how to go on living.
Nice, right? Whereas The New York Times said:
Instead, this cringe-making excuse for a novel takes the sappy contrivances of his 2001 book, "How to Be Good," to an embarrassing new low.
I'm more on the side of the Boston Globe--maybe a little less gushing--I don't know if I'm ever going to love one as much as I loved High Fidelity, but the book certainly didn't deserve the rotten review that the Times gave it. It wasn't sappy. (Neither was How to be Good. A little sappiness might have made it less depressing, actually). I cared about the characters--even when they were acting stupid or self-absorbed or annoying--because they were real people. That's what I think that Nick Hornby's real strength is--he can create characters that are human, flaws and all, and I (obviously I can't speak for everyone) love them for their flawed human-ness rather than in spite of it.