I love Nick Hornby. I read High Fidelity and About a Boy, and saw the films for each (starring John Cusack and Hugh Grant, respectively), and loved them both. A Long Way Down is one of Hornby's more recent novels, released in 2005.
A Long Way Down is, in a nutshell, about suicide. Or a lack thereof. The story is told from the points of view of four different characters, each of whom seeks to end their life at the beginning of the book. Of course, they don't, or else it would be a rather short book indeed.
The book is long on Hornby's characteristic sharp wit and English phraseology. He tells the events from each character's eyes distinctively, from the demure, homely churchgoing Maureen to the American guitarist-cum-pizzaboy JJ. Not only do the voices of the characters show through in their respective chapters, but subtle changes in the writing itself show how each of the characters acts: for instance, troubled teen Jess never cared to learn how quotations marks are used, so she doesn't use them.
Each character has their own voice that rings true. You could almost believe that Hornby really was an 18-year-old-girl, or a scandalous TV talk show host like Martin Sharp (whose name draws many puns in tabloid headlines). The characters are multidimensional and interesting, and it's intriguing to read on as more and more secrets are revealed about their lives and their pasts.
Unfortunately, the best part of the book is the first scene. The characters meet, a friendship is formed, and then... and then what? The book is divided into three parts, and each part is weaker than the preceding one. And in the end, well, perhaps it is symbolic of life in general, but there is no real satisfactory conclusion to the book. It ends, and perhaps the characters are a little better off than they started, but nothing is really solved. They just live to fight another day.
"Everything has to be wrapped up, with a smile and a tear and a wave. Everyone has learned, found love, seen the error of their ways, discovered the joys of monogamy, or fatherhood, or filial duty, or life itself. In my day, people got shot at the end of films, after learning that life is hollow, dismal, brutish, and short."
Length: 3/10 (1 is Goodnight Moon, 10 is The Lord of the Rings) This took me 4 or 5 days to read through, pulling me in with the rapt attention that Hornby's novels always provoke in me. It's not a very thick book, and you can get through it pretty quickly.
Grade: 84% A Long Way Down starts out fabulous with a great concept and living, breathing characters, but starts losing steam as the story progresses without a satisfying conclusion.