Most people get suicide, I guess; most people, even if it’s hidden deep down inside somewhere, can remember a time in their lives when they thought about whether they really wanted to wake up the next day. Wanting to die seems like it might be a part of being alive.
I’ve read a few of Hornby’s novels in years past (About a Boy, High Fidelity, How to be Good) and enjoyed them but never loved any. A Long Way Down falls into that same category for me. Don’t get me wrong, it has some strong parts. There was at least one scene that made me actually laugh out loud, something I don’t do often while reading to myself. Hornby handles the topic of suicide with sympathy and humour and while he never goes really and truly deep, I’m not sure that’s what the reader should expect of this book or his writing.
The story starts on New Year’s Eve, on the roof of a building tall enough to make it a popular spot for those who wish to end their lives. Indeed, such a popular spot that four people happen to get there at the same time with the same intention. And so, instead of ending their lives that night, they head off to a party together to look for a guy named Chas. They decide to meet up regularly and re-evaluate their decision on the next “big” suicide holiday – Valentine’s Day.
The story is told in alternating sections from each of their points of view. These four vastly different people have little in common behind the thought that their problems won’t change and there is no real solution to be found. They argue, find some things (not everything) in common, and debate what it might take to make life worth living.
This isn’t a feel good novel but it isn’t a dark one either. For a story about suicide, it’s quite funny and it’s quite entertaining. It doesn’t offer much in the way of epiphanies or provoke deeper thought, but if you’ve read Hornby before you likely aren’t expecting that.
The alternating narration works all right though I think the story could have also been told just as well with one narrator. When I read How to be Good I found myself thinking that Hornby doesn’t write convincingly from a woman’s POV and I think that’s till true here. (Two of the main characters/narrators are female.) The character of J.J. comes across as Hornby’s favoured voice – probably because it reminded me of other characters he’s written – and I can’t help but wonder if the book might have been stronger if Hornby had stuck with J.J. all the way through and let his story be told more intimately.
As it is, this is a fun, easy read about suicide, as contradictory as that may seem.