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A Long Way Down Paperback – May 2, 2006

3.6 out of 5 stars 417 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594481938
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594481932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (417 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: 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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