About a Boy

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About a BoyAbout a Boy by Nick Hornby
Published: 1998

I’ve read several of Nick Hornby’s books, but until now I’d somehow managed to miss two of his most famous – About a Boy and High Fidelity. I didn’t skip them out of some hipster need to stay obscure, it’s just that all of the copies I’d stumbled across had the movie tie-in covers. I wouldn’t consider myself a book snob – I actually enjoyed The Da Vinci Code when I read it – but I’m definitely a cover snob.

I’m fine with novels being adapted to screen. I’m even fine with, and often in favour of, screenwriters changing parts of the plot to accommodate the different medium, because I see the movie and the book as two separate entities. No matter how bad or good the movie turns out to be, the books will still exist unchanged. You could cast Justin Beiber as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby and it wouldn’t bother me, apart from the slight disappointment of a wasted opportunity, because it doesn’t change my enjoyment of the book.

And while I think this is a fairly healthy attitude to have in regards to adaptations (doesn’t bother me that Tom Bombadil was left out of Fellowship, so hah!), it does cause me to become somewhat irate when I see these movie tie-in covers. This is the book, damn it. These are meant to be separate. These actors are not these characters, they’re someone else’s interpretation of them, so get them off my book!

Anyhoo, this rant has all been a long-winded attempt to justify my embarrassment over having Hugh Grant on the cover my book for the last week. Moving on…

This is the sort of book that, given the chance, would appeal to nearly everyone. It has complicated adult relationships, childhood angst and frustration, humour, heartwarming moments that aren’t cheap and manipulative, and fun 90s references. It’s the story of a boy, Marcus Brewer, who has to deal with a hell of a lot in his life – a controlling mother who’s losing control of her own life, an absent father, and a relentless daily onslaught of bullying at school. He’s been so sheltered by his hippie mother that he’s completely out of touch with anything in popular culture. He doesn’t even really get sarcasm, which at first almost makes it seem like he has Asperger’s. Or is German, maybe.

He slowly starts to come out of his shell during the course of the novel. This is partly due to some reluctant help from the novel’s other protagonist Will Freeman, a man in his mid-thirties who has spent his entire life avoiding having to deal with anything. He’s rich through inheritance and doesn’t need to work, so he spends his days just passing the time. At least until Marcus decides to start showing up at his door every day.

I loved this, as I tend to do with most of Hornby’s books. I remember enjoying the movie as well, but it can’t come close to the novel. It was certainly worth putting up with the cover for a few days.

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