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A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby You've decided to kill yourself, right? So you make your way up on to the roof of a tower block intending to throw yourself off - but it's New Year's Eve, so it's like Piccadilly Circus up there. What do you do? What is the etiquette in a situation like that? Who jumps first? Should they toss for it, or form an orderly queue by the edge? Ladies first maybe?Nick Hornby's latest attempt to get to grips with the meaning of life is narrated by four very different people, complete strangers in fact, who meet on the roof of a tower block which is such a notorious suicide spot it's known as 'Topper House'.The opening may sound like the storyboard of a Radiohead video, but don't let that put you off - this is not a depressing book. In fact the gallows humour soon had me snorting with laughter. I was in love with it by page twenty: at which point a young American called JJ turns up to deliver pizza - this is on the roof of a tower block, remember! He is the last of the four to arrive, and describes the others like this:"A middle-aged woman who looked like someone's cleaning lady, a shrieking adolescent lunatic and a talk-show host with an orange face . . . It didn't add up. Suicide wasn't invented for people like this. It was invented for people like Virginia Woolf and Nick Drake. And me. Suicide was supposed to be cool."The four of them start to talk, telling each other why they have chosen to end it all. Martin, the orange-faced talk show host, is a disgraced former breakfast TV presenter whose life is in ruins after he ended up in prison for sleeping with a fifteen year-old girl; and the middle-aged woman is a naïve catholic called Maureen who has spent the last nineteen years looking after her son who I can't describe without using the word vegetable. (Hornby avoids being specific in that respect as well).Compared to them, JJ feels his reasons are inadequate, so he makes up something worse (see page 37 - it's hilarious). The shrieking adolescent lunatic is an incredibly annoying, immature eighteen year-old girl called Jess, with a very big mouth and no tact whatsoever. She is upset because her boyfriend is avoiding her (not surprising really!)Slowly a spiky relationship develops between the four of them, and they find that they have inadvertently become a mutual support group. Imagine a kamikaze version of the The Breakfast Club in the 1980's teen-flick of the same name, only completely different.This is a very funny book, in a 'stick-your-hand-in-your-mouth-and-choke-with-laughter' way - with several surprises and twists as the foursome venture back into the world together. It's life-affirming stuff, but in quite a back-handed way. Maybe the Samaritans should take a leaf out of the Gideon's book and leave a copy of A Long Way Down on the roof of every tower block. I reckon it would make a great stage play as well.{Review originally posted on ciao.co.uk on May 1st, 2005}