Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Nick Hornby is an author I've read more than my fair share of and it's someone else's turn. Really this is only the third Hornby I've read (High Fidelity and Slam were the other two) and I think I may already be tired of his style.
Hornby's books seem to be all surface and no substance with a lot of bland narration by unsympathetic English men. A Long Way Down shakes that up a bit by including a dull American man, an unsympathetic English woman, and an actually fascinating character into the narrative mix.
The story is told from the perspectives of four people who happened to run into one another when they all attempted suicide in the same location on New Year's Eve. There's a scummy journalist who has lost his family and been to prison for having sex with a fifteen year old girl (the book never commits to saying rape though it probably should), a musician with a band that has recently broken up, a young woman who probably has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and a devout Catholic woman who has spent twenty years caring for her severely disabled son.
The premise, of course, is that there's really not a good reason to kill yourself and that there's always a tomorrow to look to and you're responsible for seeking out your own happiness and satisfaction is possible but I just have trouble buying it. Everyone is very kind to and understanding of Maureen, the woman who cares for her disabled son, and everyone totally understands why she would want to kill herself because caring for a disabled person is a living hell.
Which is ableist as fuck. And that never gets addressed - Maureen wishes her son would die and we only ever hear that from her narrative perspective, that isn't something the other characters challenge or attempt to help her cope with, that's just left to lie. Eventually Maureen doesn't wish for her son to be dead because she's learned that she can distribute the burden of care. That's just not a good thing. There are giant systems that create people who feel the way that Maureen does and they've spawned the anti-vax movement to try to avoid the possibility of being "burdened" with autistic children.
Martin, the skeevy TV host, accepts that he's never contributed anything to the world and gets his happy ending by teaching a terrible child to read but who the fuck is letting a convicted rapist tutor their child? That's a huge problem with not addressing that his divorce, the loss of his job, and his imprisonment aren't the result of easy-to-make mistakes but are the result of him having sex with someone who is below the legal age of consent. We're given a lot of perspective about his conservative middle-class attitudes but all that we're told about his victim is that she looked older than fifteen and met him at a party. That's pretty classic victim blaming coming from an author who's supposed to be something of a humorist.
The whole book attempts to understand and sympathize with people who are suicidal, it wants you to laugh with their pain and think about what might make you suicidal and how petty and strange it would seem to outsiders, but the whole thing really seems dismissive. Suicide is complicated and there can be very funny elements when discussing it with people who are suicidal but attempting to get into the head of someone suicidal in a novel that doesn't know where it wants to go doesn't seem to be a really good way to get at the heart of the issue.
This was a fairly quick read, but not one that I enjoyed.
Hornby, Nick. A Long Way Down. Riverhead Books. New York: New York. 2006. (2005).