Years ago I read How to be Good and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t enamoured enough to run out and immediately to buy his entire bibliography, but I did mean to eventually get back to him. Better late than never, I figure. I’m extremely glad I finally did, because I ended up loving this.
The premise is simple but genius: four strangers climb to the top of an apartment building in London on New Years Eve with the intention of jumping to their deaths, but when they find each other up there it just kills the whole mood. After some discussion, they climb back down with a pact to not kill themselves until Valentine’s Day. We follow them as they struggle to come to grips with both their lives and their dependency on this newly formed gang of bewildered depressives.
A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they’ve all let him down.
You wouldn’t think it from the description, but A Long Way Down is actually a lot of fun. It’s a great balance of serious and hilarious. The four point-of-view characters being so different and incompatible with each other, and yet desperately needing each other, results in both great bickering and interesting insights. I wouldn’t actually want to meet any of the characters, but they’re all easy to relate to and endearing in their own ways.
Coming off of As I Lay Dying, I was able to fully appreciate Hornby’s gift for characterization. They were so distinct and interesting that I never found myself rushing through a chapter to get back to my favourite character, which almost always happens in multiple viewpoint novels at some point.
There was something else in the article I read: an interview with a man who’d survived after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He said that two seconds after jumping, he realized that there was nothing in his life he couldn’t deal with, no problem he couldn’t solve—apart from the problem he’d just given himself by jumping off the bridge.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy his entire bibliography.