The first chapter of Nick Hornby’s novel, “A Long Way Down” introduces the 4 main characters, Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ. Each main character tells the story in a rotating first person, and each section clearly identifies who is speaking. The story starts with Martin explaining why he is on top of a fifteen-story building, on New Years Eve, “Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?”
The pacing of the story is fast and furious. The switching between narrators leaves the reader dizzy, in a “Being John Malkovich” style voyeuristic whirlwind of personalities. Martin, we learn, is a middle-aged morning television talking head, out of work, and out of marriage, because of a well-publicized affair, with an underage girl. Maureen is a conservative single mother of a special needs child, now grown. Jess, turns out to be the rebellious daughter of a well to do politician. JJ is a musician, out of work and out of luck since his band broke up, and sick of delivering pizzas.
Nick Hornby brings these desperate souls together, on a night when each has decided to end their lives. The characters are well drawn and consistent; at times each is likable, dislikable, frustrating and endearing. The book is well timed and well organized. We are introduced to each character in turn, and we genuinely want to know how life will turn out or end. Nick Hornby takes a depressing subject and heart breaking characters, and weaves a tale that leaves the reader satisfied and entertained.