Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.0 / 10
My Rating: 4.5 / 10
Nick Hornby’s (1957 – ) A Long Way Down is incredibly reminiscent of Mitch Albom’s books (Five People You Meet in Heaven, For One More Day) for me, and, upon reading it, I had to look up his works that I’ve read to make sure it wasn’t the same author. Hornby’s style is very sentimental which can be uplifting to read, but the reader is always assured that seemingly everything will work out in the end and that the characters will come to some realization or revelation about how they’re living their lives. Throughout the entirety of the novel, I was frequently thinking surely something will actually happen.
A Long Way Down follows four individuals that all decide to commit suicide by jumping off of Topper’s House on New Year’s Eve. Because they all meet at the top of the building, none of them decide to jump, and the group agrees to reassess their lives and meet again to make an ultimate decision on a later date. What then ensues is a series of conflicts, discussions, and reflections by each of the characters as they come to terms with their understanding of life.
The idea of the novel is creative, and I enjoyed the premise. However, that’s about as far as my interest ran. The characters are archetypal and behave almost exactly as you would expect them to. The conflicts that arise between them are realistic in the sense that the characters are genuine to their principles, regardless of how predictable those may be.
The main problem I have with the plot, and as a result the novel itself, is that the climax occurs the first time the group is on the roof together. The tension the reader feels as each character debates falling from the roof is never reached again in the novel. At no point after the first meeting did I ever think that any of the characters would succumb to their doubts and decide to commit suicide, making the last three quarters of the book just a resolution to the problem that was all but solved at the outset of the novel. I thought for the last hundred pages or so that one of the characters was going to die to something unexpected, be it a car wreck or something similar, but instead, they all slowly reorganize their lives.
What could have helped the progression in the book would have been to structure it differently, in my opinion. The characters are all given a voice which makes each one more personable, but without an objective or omniscient narrator, the reader has a difficult time forming his or her own opinion of each character. The novel would have dramatically benefited from a third person lead in to the climactic meeting at the top of Topper’s House so that the reader can fully comprehend what brought each character there. Without it, there’s little sympathy exhibited from the reader when it’s most necessary.
Had the novel been shaped in a way to build up to a climactic engagement at the top of the roof, instead of starting with one, Hornby’s suicidal Breakfast Club would have been much, much more appealing.