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142 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a Downer at All
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...
Published on June 9, 2005 by C. Johnson

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars uneven and disappointing, funny at times
A Long Way Down starts with the sort of implausible premise--four strangers meet while attempting to commit suicide from the same rooftop--that will make some readers groan at the start. But the premise isn't the problem here; it's what comes afterward.

The opening scene that brings all the characters together is like the book itself a mixed bag. It reads...
Published on October 8, 2005 by B. Capossere


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142 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a Downer at All, June 9, 2005
By 
C. Johnson (Orange County, California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Long Way Down (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. Hornby takes some highly unlikeable people and fleshes them out so the reader cares what they think, and most importantly cares if they live or die.

I didn't really enjoy Hornby's last book, "How to be Good." I agree with several Amazon reviewers of HTBG who wrote something like, "That was an interesting premise and a fun ride, but what was the point?" I felt like I had wasted a few days of reading. "A Long Way Down" begins in a manner similar to "How to be Good," an intriguing but highly implausible exposition that shows great promise. While reading I was saying to myself, "Don't burn me again Hornby! Don't take me on this wild journey for no apparent reason!" Fortunately, "A Long Way Down" has a point. Not one I can sum up in a few sentences, but a point nonetheless.

There's no way to discuss the plot without ruining the book for you. Just order the book and enjoy a brilliant summer read.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Sorrowful Stories; One Hilarious Novel, August 16, 2005
By 
Antoinette Klein (Hoover, Alabama USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Long Way Down (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic - what else can I say?, June 8, 2005
This review is from: A Long Way Down (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as High Fidelity � but still worth a read, June 7, 2005
By 
Francisco J Munoz (Coquitlam, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Long Way Down (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.
WHAT I LOVED:
The humor. Given this horribly dark subject matter, Nick Hornby continually finds a way to make his material and situations amusing.
WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE:
Finding this horribly dark subject matter amusing.
Part of the problem with Nick Hornby is that he is a comic novelist in the traditional sense. (As with Shakespeare's comedies, it is the happy ending that defines it as such.)
I kept thinking that this novel might work better as a play or a skit. The opening on the roof is very theatrical, almost like a Samuel Beckett play (full of gallows humor). There rest of the book, essentially, is a series of monologues.
Some people may find A Long Way Down a little shallow, a little contrived and glib, like a TV sitcom run amok. Hornby constantly undermines the seriousness of his subject matter in order to make it bearable; but in doing so he also undermines the weight of it; in a way, he sort of paints himself into a corner from the beginning. The rest of the novel is about Hornby writing himself out of the hole. Give him credit for courage, though.
All the negative aspects aside -- there are A LOT of laugh-out-loud passages in this book; there's enough humor and wit and liveliness for me to recommend it. His writing is still a pleasure to read, his characters full of attitude and intensely likeable, and after The Loser's Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez (another recent Amazon favorite of mine), I'm still recommending Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. Maybe not his best -- High Fidelity still commands that spot -- but still good, a comic novel stretching the limits of what a comic novel should be.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars uneven and disappointing, funny at times, October 8, 2005
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Hardcover)
A Long Way Down starts with the sort of implausible premise--four strangers meet while attempting to commit suicide from the same rooftop--that will make some readers groan at the start. But the premise isn't the problem here; it's what comes afterward.

The opening scene that brings all the characters together is like the book itself a mixed bag. It reads at various times extremely funny, forced, glib, and worst of all, dull. The characters themselves come from all walks of life--class, geography, religion, family relationships, but their voices are surprisingly uniform in this first scene and for too long afterward. They eventually do sharpen and wander away from each other, but it takes a while. One's reaction to them will probably depend as much on the reader's background/personality as on Hornby's skill in character creation. I didn't find much to like in any of them, which certainly colored my reaction to the novel--I simply didn't care enough about any of the characters to overlook some of its flaws.

The structure was also problematic for me. Long Way Down is told from all four viewpoints but so many of the sections were too short or too glibly self-aware, robbing them of depth or power. Settling in for some longer time with each of them would have helped.

The plot sort of meanders from one ludicrous scene to another--some of them working, some of them not so much--an appropriate method for these characters (as is the way the book refuses to wrap things up nice and neat) but one that also robs the book somewhat of the ability to move a reader.

Overall, the book fell flat for me--the plot never compelled, the characters never formed a strong hold on me, the themes were too shallowly explored, and the structure was more of an obstacle than an enhancement. It's funny in many places, readable in most, but it doesn't go much beyond that.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as High Fidelity ¿ but still worth a read, June 27, 2005
By 
Francisco J Munoz (Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Long Way Down (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.
WHAT I LOVED:
The humor. Given this horribly dark subject matter, Nick Hornby continually finds a way to make his material and situations amusing.
WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE:
Finding this horribly dark subject matter amusing.
Part of the problem with Nick Hornby is that he is a comic novelist in the traditional sense. (As with Shakespeare's comedies, it is the happy ending that defines it as such.)
I kept thinking that this novel might work better as a play or a skit. The opening on the roof is very theatrical, almost like a Samuel Beckett play (full of gallows humor). There rest of the book, essentially, is a series of monologues.
Some people may find A Long Way Down a little shallow, a little contrived and glib, like a TV sitcom run amok. Hornby constantly undermines the seriousness of his subject matter in order to make it bearable; but in doing so he also undermines the weight of it; in a way, he sort of paints himself into a corner from the beginning. The rest of the novel is about Hornby writing himself out of the hole. Give him credit for courage, though.
All the negative aspects aside -- there are A LOT of laugh-out-loud passages in this book; there's enough humor and wit and liveliness for me to recommend it. His writing is still a pleasure to read, his characters full of attitude and intensely likeable, and after The Loser's Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez (another recent Amazon favorite of mine), I'm still recommending Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. Maybe not his best -- High Fidelity still commands that spot -- but still good, a comic novel stretching the limits of what a comic novel should be.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings, June 27, 2005
By 
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Hardcover)
Let me start by saying that Hornby is outstanding at what he does. His wit is razor sharp. His ear for dialogue and his empathy for his wide-ranging characters are among the best in the business. And his capacity to gather extreme emotions and emotional events, put them in fitting boxes, squeeze the best juice out of them and then push all that through his fingers and into the keys of his word processor is quite amazing.

That said, I thought in this book he was doing a little too much of all of that primarily for the purpose of showing off. Frankly, if I had half his talent, I'd be tempted to do the same. But this made, for me at least, a very nice series of extremely well done moments and turns of phrase that did not hang together entirely as a single cohesive work.

Not that he can't be excused of this -- he was taking on an awful lot. The attempt to write a single coherent novel from four different perspectives and to keep the pages turning is not a task that I expect would be easy. And he largely pulls it off. But, at the end, this book felt to me less than the sum of its parts.

As for whether or not it is a downer, I'm having a little trouble seeing the "not a downer" side of the coin. It's a downer alright. The utter despair of screw ups when they reach the epiphany that they can't even screw up properly is, in a word, heartbreaking. Yes, there is a life affirming (of sorts) end message, and some modest redemption, but there is a bleakness to this novel that one should be prepared for if at all sensitive to that sort of thing.

One final word and the real reason I can't give this book more than 4 stars. Hornby's self consciousness about writing a book with no easy resolutions or Hollywood style happy endings comes off as too over-the-top. His characters remind us nearly a half dozen times that this is not that kind of book, and of course, what that really is is Hornby himself bragging about how it's not that kind of book. That's fine, but a little more understatement about his anti-conventional streak -- which most of us who've been with Hornby for many years already understand -- seemed to be in order.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this!, June 8, 2005
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Hardcover)
This is another excellent novel from Nick Hornby who has yet to write anything that I have not enjoyed. It is the story of four very different characters.

Maureen is a downtrodden single parent whose life is dedicated to caring for her severely disabled son. Martin is an obnoxious daytime TV presenter who has been the subject of a high profile sex scandal. JJ is a musician who always wanted to be a rock star but now deliver pizzas. Jess is an impulsive teenage tearaway. It is hard to imagine a group with less in common.

What does bring them together is a tower block - Toppers House - in London on New Years Eve where each arrives intending to leap to their doom. They inevitably discuss what has brought them there. I must say that I feared that they would understand each others pain and then hug each other living happily ever after in a community. But they don't. In fact whenever I thought I knew where it was going it went off in a different direction. Never predictable and never dull.

They are certainly not a likeable bunch. Why else would they be at Toppers House in the first place? But they are a fascinating group of oddballs and their mutual dependency is both touching and amusing. The subject matter is never trivialised even though there are several laugh out loud moments. The writing is always excellent. Watch out for Maureen's discovery of Nick Drake's music. That is a real `waterworks' moment.

Don't be put off by the gloomy subject matter. This is his best to date and should not be missed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hornby writes very real, very 'human' characters, July 24, 2006
By 
Patti Linnell (Omaha, NE United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Hardcover)
I wonder what it's like to have so many of your books be so wildly popular and turned into wildly popular movies. When you write a book after that, is it impossible to write without thinking in the back of your mind, "if this was turned into a movie, what would it look like?" Or is it just harder for the reader while reading to push out thoughts of, "Huh, I wonder if they'll turn this one into a movie."

What I like about Hornby is how real and human the characters he writes are. He is the opposite of Dickens. Revelations are slow coming, if at all. Acts of kindness usually have a self-centered alternative motives. Each time I read any of his books I think, "That's a horrible thought I've had."

I enjoyed the way Hornby wrote his women characters in this book a whole lot more than in "How to be Good", which felt awkward at best to me. All the characters are very interesting. It must've been a challenge to switch the voices of four very different characters, but Hornby seems to do so with ease.

All in all, I enjoyed the book; I always enjoy Hornby's pop references and sarcastic and dry wit. Good work Nick.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fellowship of Failed Suicides Humorously Rendered, July 2, 2005
By 
Ed Uyeshima (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Hardcover)
I never read a Nick Hornby book before, and I was not prepared for the sharp satirical eye and keen observational skills he adroitly displays here. The title of his novel refers to a suicide jump from the roof of a building known as Topper's House, where four characters, three English and one American, come on New Year's Eve to commit suicide. They attempt to talk one another out of the fateful deed, but the lingering threat of suicide haunts their tenuous friendship throughout the story, as voiced by the alternating voices of the four disparate narrators. Predictably the plot focuses on the characters bonding and discovering, through connections with each other, reasons to go on living. The concept sounds trivial, almost like a fable, but the execution is quite plausible, sensitive and sometimes quite amusing thanks to Hornby's quicksilver writing style and consequently allows each character his or her fair share of humanity and humor.

The four sound a bit like stereotypes in a mid-1970's disaster movie. Maureen is a meek, sanctimonious woman whose life has been devoted to caring for her profoundly disabled adult son, comatose since birth. She wants to jump off the building holding a copy of Richard Yates' novel "Revolutionary Road" as a means to boost sales for the author. Perhaps to enhance the melodramatic possibilities of his premise, Hornby has painted the remaining three as semi-famous celebrities at the beginning of the story. Martin is a familiar TV talk show host and tabloid columnist until an affair with a fifteen-year-old girl obliterates his career and family. He has been reduced to interviewing nobodies on an obscure cable-access channel, FeetUp!TV. JJ is a young American musician so rocked by the rapid collapse of his band and his love life that he resorts to delivering pizzas for a living. Foul-mouthed and drug-abusing Jess is the unstable daughter of a young politician, whose big sister has disappeared and may be dead.

All four seem like soloists learning to become an ensemble who get past a lot of prejudices and not without incident, like flawed singers trading dissonant but heartfelt solos. Unsurprisingly, they all wind up some place quite different at the end of the book from where they expected. They eventually reunite even attempting a group intervention at a Starbucks when things go south for their burgeoning friendship. Such is Hornby's dry sense of humor. Despite the rich comedy, there is uneasiness in the subject matter. While Hornby's sensibility is perfectly matched to the quirkier elements here, he seems less comfortable with the subject of suicide itself. He generally opts for the comedy than dealing with the darker elements, and the novel simply tapers off in a pat manner with hints of reluctant affirmation among the characters. Hornby makes me care about these four failed suicides because he realistically illustrates how their lives improved almost imperceptibly. It's a subtle growth that signals a major writing talent.
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A Long Way Down
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Paperback - May 2, 2006)
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