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A Long Way Down Hardcover – June 7, 2005


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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1st edition (June 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223026
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223027
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (342 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If Camus had written a grown-up version of The Breakfast Club, the result might have had more than a little in common with Hornby's grimly comic, oddly moving fourth novel. The story opens in London on New Year's Eve, when four desperate people—Martin, a publicly disgraced TV personality; Maureen, a middle-aged woman with no life beyond caring for her severely disabled adult son; Jess [...]; and JJ, an American rocker whose music career has just ended with a whimper—meet on the roof of a building known as Toppers' House, where they have all come to commit suicide. Bonded by their shared misery, the unlikely quartet spends the night together, telling their stories, getting on each others' nerves even as they save each others' lives. They part the following morning, aware of having formed a peculiar sort of gang. As Jess reflects: "When you're sad—like, really sad, Toppers' House sad—you only want to be with other people who are sad."It's a bold setup, perilously high-concept, but Hornby pulls it off with understated ease. What follows is predictable in the broadest sense—as the motley crew of misfits coalesces into a kind of surrogate family, each individual takes a halting first step toward creating a tolerable future—but rarely in its particulars. Allowing the four main characters to narrate in round-robin fashion, Hornby alternates deftly executed comic episodes—an absurd brush with tabloid fame, an ill-conceived group vacation in the Canary Islands, a book group focused on writers who have committed suicide, a disastrous attempt to save Martin's marriage—with interludes of quiet reflection, some of which are startlingly insightful. Here, for example, is JJ, talking about the burden of understanding that he no longer wants to kill himself: "In a way, it makes things worse, not better.... Telling yourself life is shit is like an anesthetic, and when you stop taking the Advil, then you really can tell how much it hurts, and where, and it's not like that kind of pain does anyone a whole lot of good."While the reader comes to know all four characters well by the end of the novel, it's Maureen who stands out. A prim, old-fashioned Catholic woman who objects to foul language, Maureen is, on the surface, the least Hornbyesque of characters. Unacquainted with pop culture, she has done nothing throughout her entire adult life except care for a child who doesn't even know she's there and attend mass. As she says, "You know that things aren't going well for you when you can't even tell people the simplest fact about your life, just because they'll presume you're asking them to feel sorry for you." Hornby takes a Dickensian risk in creating a character as saintly and pathetic as Maureen, but it pays off. In her own quiet way, she's an unforgettable figure, the moral and emotional center of the novel. This is a brave and absorbing book. It's a thrill to watch a writer as talented as Hornby take on the grimmest of subjects without flinching, and somehow make it funny and surprising at the same time. And if the characters occasionally seem a little more eloquent or self-aware than they have a right to be, or if the novel turns just the tiniest bit sentimental at the end, all you can really fault Hornby for is an act of excessive generosity, an authorial embrace bestowed upon some characters who are sorely in need of a hug.175,000 first printing.(June)Tom Perrotta's most recent novel, Little Children, has just been published in paperback by St. Martin's Griffin.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Four different people find themselves on the same roof on New Year's Eve, but they have one thing in common–they're all there to jump to their deaths. A scandal-plagued talk-show host, a single mom of a disabled young man, a troubled teen, and an aging American musician soon unite in a common cause, to find out why Jess (the teen) can't get her ex-boyfriend to return her calls. Down the stairs they go, and thoughts of suicide gradually subside. It all sounds so high concept, but each strand of the plot draws readers into Hornby's web. The novel is so simply written that its depths don't come to full view until well into the reading. Each character takes a turn telling the story in a distinctive voice. Tough questions are asked–why do you want to kill yourself, and why didn't you do it? Are adults any smarter than adolescents? What defines friends and family? Characters are alternately sympathetic and utterly despicable, talk-show-host Martin, particularly. The narrators are occasionally unreliable, with the truth coming from the observers instead. Obviously, a book about suicide is a dark read, but this one is darkly humorous–as Hornby usually is. Teens will identify with or loathe Jess and musician J. J., but they will also find themselves in the shoes of Maureen and Martin. This somewhat philosophical work will appeal to Hornby's fans but has plenty to attract new audiences as well.–Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Nick Hornby is the author of the novels A Long Way Down, How to Be Good (a New York Times bestseller), High Fidelity, and About a Boy, and of the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and editor of the short-story collection Speaking with the Angel. He is also the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award, and the Orange Word International Writers London Award 2003.

Customer Reviews

All the characters are very interesting.
Patti Linnell
In short, this book had a bit of everything without ever feeling like Hornby was over-reaching or trying to do too much with one story.
The Lit Witch
This book is worth every cent, and it's one of the few that I will will read for the second and even third time.
RM

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 151 people found the following review helpful By C. Johnson on June 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Hornby's inventive approach to this seemingly dark topic, suicide. I expected a somber read, but found myself laughing out loud several times. He doesn't take the questions of Life and Death too lightly, nor does he take them too seriously. He finds the perfect mix of melancholia, humor, depression, and excitement.

Hornby writes the book in first person, but the point of view is passed around between the four main characters. My main concern when I discovered this format was that I was going to be re-living events through the four characters eyes, constantly back-tracking in time to get all points of view. Fortunately, Hornby avoids this pitfall by never having the story fold back on itself. This preserves the forward motion of the story. The reader is left with the impression that four very different people have written their personal memoirs and an editor deftly pieced them together to create a moving story. We've all read books where a young girl is speaking and you just can't get it out of your head that a middle-aged man is writing how he imagines a young girl would speak. Hornby doesn't have that problem. He writes from the point of view of different ages, sexes, and nationalities. You don't feel the heavy hand of the author weighing down their words. So in the end, Hornby's fiction feels like non-fiction.

While Hornby creates and develops his convincing characters, he includes insightful commentary on current London (and global) culture, such as the "Starbuck-ing" of the world, tabloid culture, and our obsession with celebrity. He doesn't necessarily condemn these things, he just starts conversations about them, or rather his characters do.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette Klein on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When I read this was a very funny book about four people who try to commit suicide, I was intrigued. I had never read a book by Nick Hornby, but couldn't imagine how such a serious subject could be treated lightly and still be in good taste. Amazingly, Hornby seems to pull this feat off exceedingly well for even though you are saddened by their situations, the laugh-out-loud moments are many and the emotional delving that is done with intelligence and wit make this a rewarding read.

The four protagonists are: Martin, a tv talk-show host whose antics invite public humiliation; Maureen, an older woman and mother of a son who is more vegetable than human; Jess, a young girl who redefines the term deranged personality; and JJ, an American rock star wannabe dropped by both his band and his girl. When these four lost souls meet at the top of a London tower on New Year's Eve, a most unlikely bonding occurs.

Hornby explores the reasons people are brought to the brink of suicide, the reasons some jump and some don't, and most importantly, what it is that makes unhappy people keep on plugging away at finding a better life.

The writer does an excellent job of giving each of the protagonists a unique voice. While the story is told in rotation by each of the four, the reader is never confused as to the person narrating, and that is a remarkable accomplishment, especially since he writes in first person as old, young, male, and female.

Both grim and humorous, and liberally laced with pop culture references, this is a book you'll want to think about long after the last page is read.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on June 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'd read the review for this months ago in Kirkus, and my first thought was, "How is Hornby going to pull off a book around such an odd topic?" Well, I should have known better than to worry, as Hornby pulls it off with humor and great flair.

As you probably already know, the plot involves 4 people who meet while preparing to jump to their deaths from a famous suicide spot. Instead of doing so, they band together to form one of the strangest support group/families you'll ever read about.

I think many who read this one will feel bad about laughing out loud at certain passages, given the darkness of the subject. However, the ability to make us do that, to be able to laugh at topics like death and suicide, is what makes Hornby a great writer. Even in deadly serious situations, he's able to inject his wit and make us take things just a little bit lighter.

I've been waiting for this one, and it was well worth the wait. Not only do I feel like my expectations and anxieties were met, but that they were easily surpassed. I can't recommend this one highly enough. With all the poor fiction that gets released every week, it's such a great feeling when a gem like this one comes along.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Francisco J Munoz on June 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As comic novels go, this book takes on a frightfully tricky subject: suicide.
On New Year's Eve in North London, four lost souls go to a roof of a particularly famous suicide point called "Topper's House" to leap - only to discover a traffic jam (themselves), and, instead of jumping, end up striking up an uneasy alliance/friendship. ("Even though we had nothing in common beyond that one thing," as the character Martin states at one point.) That's the high-concept opening and theme of this novel, in a nutshell.
The four characters:
MARTIN: a disgraced, morning talk-show host who served time in jail for sleeping with an underage girl. Divorced by his wife, humiliated by the media.
MAUREEN: a middle-aged, self-sacrificing (and long-suffering) single mom whose only son is a virtual vegetable. A Catholic who states (p. 77): "I don't believe in luck as much as punishment." She had sex once, with only one man - which resulted in a child, the cross she had to bear (and could no longer bear).
JESS: a bratty, impulsive, volatile, foul-mouthed rebel teen, daughter of a well-known government official.
JJ: a 30-ish "failed" American musician (leader of the defunct cult band, Big Yellow) - now turned pizza delivery boy. (A character most resembling Rob from High Fidelity)
The novel is told from the point of view of these four characters - that is, in alternating monologues (reminding me of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying - one of Oprah's Summer picks).
At one point a significant reference is made to Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, in which the character of Jess suggests the author "killed herself because she couldn't make herself understood."
What's unfolds then, in this novel, is the characters finding the WORDS to their despair.
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