Saturday, July 19, 2014

it's a long way down

I have been absent for a while - probably because I have not been reading particularly often, unless you count that we read Little Women for book club in June, and I found it overwhelmingly disappointing.  I had read it when I was a child - once - and had watched the movie - once - and couldn't remember much about it when we agreed it could be fun to read it again.  It was not.  What a painful book.  I have to admit I didn't actually finish because I just found myself thinking I could be spending my time in so many different, more valuable ways...

This month's book club selection was much better:

Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down.

I've actually read this one before, but knew that I would want to read it again.

I see that a movie has recently been released and I hope that it is good, but I suspect it will Hollywood-ize this to an extent that misses Nick Hornby's graceful and careful handling of difficult subject matter.  This novel is well and truly a comedic novel, but it grapples with suicide with more empathy and realism than anything else I have ever read - at least, it feels that way to me. 

Four strangers meet on a London rooftop on New Year's Eve, intending to throw themselves off.  This is the story of their unlikely friendship - a friendship based on the fact that they are the only people they know who understand what it's like not to want to live anymore.  Apart from that, they are alien to each other - poles apart.

The two main things I admire about this book are that:

  • Each of the main characters has a unique and distinctive voice, and the author inhabits them equally effectively.  It's not often that you see an author manage to narrate equally successfully through such different characters. 
    Even though I finished reading the book a couple of weeks ago, I still think of the characters and am absorbed in their stories.  I don't think of the mechanics of the prose or the plotline, but the characters are real to me.  That is what makes a good novel.
  • I don't think the novel sentimentalizes or sugar-coats the issues.  It doesn't do away with the realities facing each of the characters, or suggest that life is going to become, miraculously, easy.  Somehow, nonetheless, it demonstrates the possibility of hope.  I really think that Nick Hornby has done a service to humankind in writing it.  I hope that it has helped people.

Highly recommended.

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