I confess I haven’t really read much of his work (besides High Fidelity and About a Boy-but then that was mainly due to loving the movies) and his name didn’t jump off the jacket at me, but when I was, a few months ago, at a HUGE book sale, I picked it up due to the premise. And then shelved it for four months.
Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year’s Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper’s House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives.
Yep, it’s a book about people who want to commit suicide.
So, why in the hell would I read something like this when I have battled with anxiety and depression for so long? Probably that same question is why it sat on my shelf for as long as it did, but when I finally picked it up, I finished it in one short night.
There is nothing flowery or fancy about how Nick paints his characters in this book. He doesn’t sugar coat their states of mind nor does he romanticize depression that is so deep it has become suicidal. I think that’s why I loved it.
Each of these characters has a reason to be on the roof of Topper’s House on New Year’s Eve and although the story takes them back down the stairs instead of over the ledge, Hornby does not show their mismatched new connection to one another as a cure-all. In fact, at the end of the book they have all the same problems they had before, they’re just a little less lonely.
I love how real it is as a story. I love how Hornby describes the desperation of some characters and the hang-dog resolution of others. Some of his points were so eloquently made that I dog-eared the pages so I could go back and read them again later.
One thing that has changed in the years since this book was first released (I believe 2005) is that there is a lot more ‘talk’ about depression going on these days. It’s not such an in-the-closet issue that it used to be. There is a conversation happening on a global level that used to be stuck in the back of the closet for people who were dealing with it. But I will say this; whether you deal with depression or not, even if you’ve ever just had a really bad day, you will find something in this book that speaks to you. It’s unapologetic and almost even bleak at points but therein lies the beauty.
These days I have a lot of cause to be inwardly examining. One might think that choosing to read a “depressing” book at this particular time might be counter productive but I found it uplifting in the end. No, there was no neat little bow wrapping all the characters lives up at the end of the book to give one hope, but there was hope of a different kind.
That we can live.
I was reminded in a conversation today that there is so much more to focus on. Family. I have these five incredible people that I helped create, I mean seriously, how cool is that? There was no life, and now there are five lives and I made them. Kind of makes a shitty fight with someone feel not like the end of the world.
So I guess what I’m saying is, I liked the book a lot more than I thought I would. I picked it up intrigued by the concept, left it on a shelf afraid of the content, and wound up loving it due to it’s humanity. Because life never wraps up in a neat little bow the way a lot of fiction does. Even the fiction I write does that. But life is messy and scary and loud and hurtful and bonkers and too busy and chaotic and hilarious and just plain fucking beautiful.
And so was A Long Way Down.