Books Read in 2015 – 25. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby

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Genre: Humour, Drama, Mental Illness

Narrative Style: First person from four different points of view

Rating: 3/5

Published:2005Unknown

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: JJ, Martin, Jess and Maureen meet on the top of Topper House on New Year’s Eve. They all have the same intention. To jump. Instead, they decide to give it until Valentine’s to see if life is really worth living. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2015

Time on Shelf: About 6 years. I loved High Fidelity but since then, I’ve liked each Hornby novel a little less so I avoided reading this one. 

I suppose it’s inevitable that a novel with such a high concept storyline would seem a little unreal at times. Each story emphasised different aspects of depression and reasons why someone might try to kill themselves. However, all four of them together on one roof was a little much and was hard to swallow.

Of course, it was apparent that they wouldn’t jump – otherwise it would have been a very short story indeed – but the narrative tension was in whether they would actually make it back to life. This was where the problems started for me. I wasn’t really drawn in enough by the characters’ stories. They were all a bit too much like characters and not like real people.

Martin was the fallen celebrity who only had his own stupidity to blame, Jess had a missing sister and parents who didn’t seem to really see her, Maureen had a disabled son who she had to care for 24/7 and JJ’s band had split up and he had lost his girlfriend. When it came down to it, the solutions to all their problems were quite simple but of course, when you are depressed, nothing is simple and Hornby does capture that aspect quite well. What was more difficult was liking or empathising with them. I didn’t care enough about them because they didn’t seem real.

I also found the constant switching of viewpoints a little annoying. I’d have been happier if each narrator spoke for longer, I think but as it was, it was hard to get to grips with any of their voices. It was a little like being shouted at by four incredibly needy people. At times I just wanted them to shut up.

Although this is a book about depression, it is at times very funny and Hornby is very good at capturing his characters’ foibles. There are some very funny set pieces which, although they didn’t always ring true, did make me chuckle.

At least there was no pat ending. Hornby realises that there is no straightforward cure for what ails these characters and so although they seem better, they are not cured. But it does seem that they are moving in the right direction. That was satisfying.

 

Eclectic Reader Challenge – New Adult – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

I bought this book when the movie came out with the intention of reading the book and then seeing the movie. In the end, I did neither. It has been on my to-read list since then. So it seemed perfecphoto-14t for the Eclectic Reader Challenge category of New Adult.

The book is series of letters to an unnamed person addressed simply as friend. They detail the ups and downs of Charlie’s life as he starts High School describing events and people with a warmth and naivety that was mostly charming. He is shy, awkward and has little grasp of social etiquette. He is befriended by a group of older misfits and through them goes to parties, takes drugs and learns about sex and relationships. While his voice was convincing, I think that I’d have enjoyed it more if I was nearer his age. I found myself feeling a little impatient with him, the way adults do with teenagers but for the most part I was keen to read on and find out what happened to him.

It is apparent quite early on that Charlie has psychological issues relating to the death of his Aunt Helen and he swings between depression and optimism throughout the book. Details are gradually revealed giving the reader clues to what the issues may be. However, the final reveal – I won’t give it away for those who have not read it – felt a little underwhelming. Not that it wasn’t a serious issue – it certainly justified Charlie’s issues – but that it wasn’t explored very deeply, was almost brushed off with an ease that seemed unlikely.

This book is often compared to The Catcher in the Rye and, in some ways, it is an apt comparison. Both Holden and Charlie are caught in cycles of behaviour that they seemed destined to repeat and both have distinctive voices. However, ultimately I prefer The Catcher in the Rye because it is darker and less twee. I found the end of The Catcher in the Rye devastating as so little progress has been made in Holden’s journey of discovery. I don’t know why but I find this easier to relate to then the sweet optimism of Charlie’s last letter.