Nick Hornby is one of a small number of novelists whose books I thoroughly enjoy reading. He posesses a unique ability to extract humanity and humour out of some of the most difficult situations and to create recognisable, real life characters that the reader warms to, irrespective of what they have done.
This book, a sort of Breakfast Club for the suicidally depressed, is no exception. I was sucked into the storyline pretty much from the start, despite its weighty subject. Four people with nothing in common, apart from a desire to end their lives, find themselves on the top floor of a well-known jumping off point in South London. Instead of queuing up on the ledge in single file they descend via the stairwell and embark on a series of madcap escapades involving tabloid headlines, an angel visitation conspiracy, a holiday in Tenerife and a riotous meeting in Starbucks.
Each section in the book is written from the viewpoint of one of the main characters. You step inside their heads, as it were. The “star” of the book is Martin Sharp, a former chat-show host very much down on his luck, particularly after having slept with a fifteen-year old girl and ending up in prison as a result. He finds his match in Jess, an eighteen year old foul-mouthed rebel who has alienated herself from everyone around her as she speaks without bothering to inform her brain first. Then there’s Maureen, a middle-aged carer who has lost 20 years of her life nursing her seriously disabled son. Finally there’s JJ, a washed-up American musician, who resorts to lying when asked to explain why he wanted to jump because his reason seems so banal compared to everyone else’s. I got the impression that the author had the greatest degree of sympathy for this character.
The continuous jump into each other’s thoughts is utterly convincing and often quite funny. In Maureen’s sections, all the swear-words are blanked out: for a short while I thought this was an American thing, owing to the fact that I bought the book in Chicago… Swearing by others in the group is often followed by “sorry, Maureen”. The degree of personal insult each person in the group has to endure is cringingly hilarious at times. In the end however, a bond of sorts forms amongst them, and each of them finds out a bit more about themselves.
So, yes, I would recommend this book. It’s full of warm, funny moments with a set of wonderfully complicated characters. It’s not so much a book about suicide as it is about keeping going.
And if this book is ever to be made into a movie, I’d love to see Colin Firth playing the role of Martin Sharp..