Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Laughter Reviews #27 KEEPER - "A LONG WAY DOWN"

by Nick Hornby
Contemporary Fiction

Four Londoners intending suicide meet on the roof of an infamous building and make a pact to let some time go by before re-evaluating their goal.

What Works
Apprentice Writer has heard that when a reader begins analyzing how an author constructed the book, it is a bad thing since that is an indication the story didn't grab them in and pull them along. She begs to differ. The whole time she sped through this story, she kept thinking things like: "These four people, so wildly different from one another, have to have four different and equally believable reasons for contemplating suicide. How can the author possibly do that? Oh. But then they have to have believable reasons for coming back down from the roof, or there'd be no story. How? Oh. But of the four in the beginning, one or more are going to have to work up a new or intensified reason to go through with the deed, right? Oh...." Etc.
In short: Apprentice Writer was engrossed, convinced, and entertained (if that is the right word to use about a novel on suicide). And in case it has remained unclear from previous reviews - she is also the type of person who appreciates happy endings but really, really doesn't like it when they're overdone, with excessive ', shiny, Hollywood-ending ribbons' as one book club sister terms it. Without giving too much away of the four story endings involved, AW can say that they are not overdone. Which may, in fact, be one of the most powerful lessons of the book:

Somtimes, the difference between 'I can't go on' and 'Maybe I can' need not be huge. It might be as little as a minor shift in how one looks at something.

What Doesn't
Some readers may have difficulty with the amount of profanity involved (which in itself becomes a running gag). This is not AW's favorite thing, but she could see how it made sense for the particular characters involved, and was informed by the British members of the book club (for which she read this novel) that that is a regular part of the culture among some groups.

The story is written in first person, alternating between the four protagonists. AW thought it was a brilliant way of contrasting the characters, and she never got confused about which was which since their voices were so individual, however it is possible that some readers might not be pleased with the format.

Finally, some book club members were so alienated by the characters that they didn't bother finishing the story because they didn't care what happened to any of them. It is true that the author was unflinching in not 'prettifying' the characters; for AW this was actually a bold move, showing them in their unvarnished (non)glory, and she was fascinated with them until the end. YMMV.

In this reader's opinion, another bullseye for the author of 'About a Boy' (which she also greatly enjoyed). The fine print: would not recommend for readers under sixteen.

But does it make you laugh?
Though it must be admitted that much is black humor, the funny moments came fast and furious for this reader. It was a rare page that didn't have a noteworthy observation, character detail, or bit of dialogue that was witty, poignant, or sometimes even laugh-out-loud amusing. This is saying something, because AW went into this book with trepidation, suicide being a very touchy subject in her family so she was concerned that the subject matter might be treated flippantly or without due gravity. But though there are many (MANY!) irreverent moments, it is abundantly clear that the author has done a vast amount of thinking on this subject, and the results he weaves in to the story sometimes stay at the surface, sometimes dip further down, and sometimes go very deep indeed. Which one is which may well depend on the individual reader and the immediacy of their personal experience with the subject.

For this reader, the story did all she expects of a keeper read: delivered unique and memorable characters, developed the humor in a believable way, and provided a new way of looking at a real life issue. AW will certainly be searching out more from this author.


Julia Smith said...

For writers, straying mentally from the story to analyze style doesn't have the same context as a reader who is a non-writer. Personally, I can never take my writer's cap off.

Jenners said...

I liked how you wrote the review ... and your green highlighted words! I think black humor is defintely not everyone's thing and Hornby does have that kind of touch. I imagine it didn't go down all that well with those who don't "get" that kind of humor. Sounds like it is worth checking out to me!

M. said...

@ Julia -
Oh good, it's not just me, then. Sometimes I'm just more aware of having my analytical hat on than others.

@ Jenners -
thank you! It's kind of amazing how so many bloggers develop their own review style. And for sure, Hornby's style speaks to me. Couldn't do an all-Hornby diet, though...

Thomma Lyn said...

That sounds like an engrossing book, and I'm adding it to my TBA (to be acquired) list. :)

And yup, what Julia said -- I read for pleasure, but even so, I can never take off my writer's hat.

M. said...

@ TL - oh good, another author who keeps her analytical hat on. I'll be very interested to hear what you think of Hornby's material.

Snaggle Tooth said...

hi I hopped along over from ThommaLyn's comments-
You've got some interesting to read reviews geared up over here Apprentice- may entice a few new customers for the writers-
Keep up the good funny work!

I need all the silliness I can get- who couldn't use a laugh?
I always analyze writing styles also, tho not what I blog about!

M. said...

@ ST - welcome!
thanks for your thoughts. Nice to know sometimes that the blogosphere is 'alive' and one isn't just filling up dead cyberspace!