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A Long Way Down Hardcover – June 7, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 418 customer reviews

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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.

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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: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (418 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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