Nick Hornby’s new book, A Long Way Down, tells the story of four
people who meet while attempting suicide on New Year’s Eve. There are
four narrators, who take turns at telling the story. In order to show our respect for Hornby’s favourite form, we shall make a list:
The Top Five Things Nick Hornby Thinks He Likes But Actually Hates
1) The visible world
Why are there no descriptions of anything in Hornby’s books? He
doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the world (it’s possible he
doesn’t what know colour his hair is). Instead, he uses easy
signifiers to give you the feel of a place or person: if you built an
automatic Hornby generator, its default description of a person, place
or thing would be ‘like in a song’. For an effect of gritty reality, it
could generate ‘not like’ in place of ‘like’.
Hornby goes on about music a lot, which has fooled people into
believing he likes music. This is not the case. He only likes ‘real
music’, which consists of the following three categories: men with
guitars who “mean it”; pretty female singer-songwriters; and dead
black people. He hates and fears everything else. One of the narrators
of How to be Good is JJ, a no-mark American Rock’n’Roller (He tells us
this. If you only had the voice to go on, you’d think he was some
bloke from North London). This makes Hornby’s anti-music propaganda
unavoidable for sections of the novel.
3) Good Writing
The four narrators all sound like one another: little quips,
qualifying their own statements, “life’s a bit like x when you think
about it” observations. He could have tried a bit harder, put some
flash in, worked at making the voices come from different worlds: but
I think that’s dishonest in his book, or ‘literary’, and therefore
At least there’s a story to read, right? Kind of. They claim to see an
angel, and get on TV because of it, but that doesn’t come up again.
And they see a guy kill himself, and that doesn’t come up again. They
go on holiday together. That doesn’t come up again. It’s more a bunch
of stuff that happens to four Nick Hornbies than a story.
Another narrators of is Maureen, a middle-aged Catholic woman with a
severely disabled son. I know a lot of middle aged Catholic women. One
of them has a disabled son. Another is called Maureen. This much is
fine. However, none sound remotely like Nick Hornby pretending to be a
middle-aged Catholic woman. He seems uninterested in people who are
different to him; I suspect he believes the world to consist entirely
of people who pretend to be different, but are all Nick Hornby
underneath. This frightens me.
I think Nick Hornby thinks he likes London, and that he’s pretty good
at writing about it. This is untrue. Here is how he describes a
location: ‘Islington’. Or again: ‘Holloway’. He doesn’t notice things,
or watch the people: he just names, and because we’re all Nick Hornby
underneath, we magically know exactly what he means. Writing thoughts
and shorthand about the world is not the same as observing it well and
I bet he’s a really good bloke though.