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A Long Way Down: A Novel

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Excerpt

Chapter One

MARTIN.

Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block? Of course I can explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block. I'm not a bloody idiot. I can explain it because it wasn't inexplicable: it was a logical decision, the product of proper thought. It wasn't even very serious thought, either. I don't mean it was whimsical - I just meant that it wasn't terribly complicated, or agonised. Put it this way: say you were, I don't know, an assistant bank manager, in Guildford. And you'd been thinking of emigrating, and then you were offered the job of managing a bank in Sydney. Well, even though it's a pretty straightforward decision, you'd still have to think for a bit, wouldn't you? You'd at least have to work out whether you could bear to move, whether you could leave your friends and colleagues behind, whether you could uproot your wife and kids. You might sit down with a bit of paper and draw up a list of pros and cons. You know:

CONS - Aged parents, friends, golf club.

PROS - more money, better quality of life (house with pool, barbecue etc), sea, sunshine, no left-wing councils banning Baa-Baa Black Sheep, no EEC directives banning British sausages etc. It's no contest, is it? The golf club! Give me a break. Obviously your aged parents give you pause for thought, but that's all it is - a pause, and a brief one, too. You'd be on the phone to the travel agents within ten minutes.

Well, that was me. There simply weren't enough regrets, and lots and lots of reasons to jump. The only things in my 'cons' list were the kids, but I couldn't imagine Cindy letting me see them again anyway. I haven't got any aged parents, and I don't play golf. Suicide was my Sydney. And I say that with no offence to the good people of Sydney intended.

MAUREEN

I told him I was going to a New Year's Eve party. I told him in October. I don't know whether people send out invitations to New Year's Eve parties in October or not. Probably not. (How would I know? I haven't been to one since 1984. June and Brian across the road had one, just before they moved. And even then I only nipped in for an hour or so, after he'd gone to sleep.) But I couldn't wait any longer. I'd been thinking about it since May or June, and I was itching to tell him. Stupid, really. He doesn't understand, I'm sure he doesn't. They tell me to keep talking to him, but you can see that nothing goes in. And what a thing to be itching about anyway! But it goes to show what I had to look forward to, doesn't it?

The moment I told him, I wanted to go straight to confession. Well, I'd lied, hadn't I? I'd lied to my own son. Oh, it was only a tiny, silly lie: I'd told him months in advance that I was going to a party, a party I'd made up. I'd made it up properly, too. I told him whose party it was, and why I'd been invited, and why I wanted to go, and who else would be there. (It was Bridgid's party, Bridgid from the Church. And I'd been invited because her sister was coming over from Cork, and her sister had asked after me in a couple of letters. And I wanted to go because Bridgid's sister had taken her mother-in-law to Lourdes, and I wanted to find out all about it, with a view to taking Matty one day.) But confession wasn't possible, because I knew I would have to repeat the sin, the lie, over and over as the year came to an end. Not only to Matty, but to the people at the nursing home, and.... Well, there isn't anyone else, really. Maybe someone at the Church, or someone in a shop. It's almost comical, when you think about it. If you spend day and night looking after a sick child, there's very little room for sin, and I hadn't done anything worth confessing for donkey's years. And I went from that to sinning so terribly that I couldn't even talk to the priest, because I was going to go on sinning and sinning until the day I died, when I would commit the biggest sin of all. (And why is it the biggest sin of all? All your life you're told that you'll be going to this marvellous place when you pass on. And the one thing you can do to get you there a bit quicker is something that stops you getting there at all. Oh, I can see that it's a kind of queue-jumping. But if someone jumps the queue at the Post Office, people tut. Or sometimes they say, 'Excuse me, I was here first.' They don't say, 'You will be consumed by hellfire for all eternity.' That would be a bit strong.) It didn't stop me from going to the Church, or from taking Mass. But I only kept going because people would think there was something wrong if I stopped.

As we got closer and closer to the date, I kept passing on little tidbits of information that I told him I'd picked up. Every Sunday I pretended as though I'd learned something new, because Sundays were when I saw Bridgid. "Bridgid says there'll be dancing." "Bridgid's worried that not everyone likes wine and beer, so she'll be providing spirits." "Bridgid doesn't know how many people will have eaten already." If Matty had been able to understand anything, he'd have decided that this Bridgid woman was a lunatic, worrying like that about a little get-together. I blushed every time I saw her at the Church. And of course I wanted to know what she actually was doing on New Year's Eve, but I never asked. If she was planning to have a party, she might've felt that she had to invite me.

I'm ashamed, thinking back. Not about the lies - I'm used to lying now. No, I'm ashamed of how pathetic it all was. One Sunday I found myself telling Matty about where Bridgid was going to buy the ham for the sandwiches. But it was on my mind, New Year's Eve, of course it was, and it was a way of talking about it, without actually saying anything. And I suppose I came to believe in the party a little bit myself, in the way that you come to believe the story in a book. Every now and again I imagined what I'd wear, how much I'd drink, what time I'd leave. Whether I'd come home in a taxi. That sort of thing. In the end it was as if I'd actually been. Even in my imagination, though, I couldn't see myself talking to anyone at the party. I was always quite happy to leave it.

JESS

I was at a party downstairs in the squat. It was a shit party, full of all these ancient crusties sitting on the floor drinking cider and smoking huge spliffs and listening to weirdo space-out reggae. At midnight, one of them clapped sarcastically, and a couple of others laughed, and that was it - Happy New Year to you too. You could have turned up to that party as the happiest person in London, and you'd still have wanted up to jump off the roof by five past twelve. And I wasn't the happiest person in London anyway. Obviously.

I only went because someone at college told me Chas would be there, but he wasn't. I tried his mobile for the one zillionth time, but it wasn't on. When we first split up, he called me a stalker, but that's like an emotive word, 'stalker', isn't it? I don't think you can call it stalking when it's just phone calls and letters and emails and knocking on the door. And I only turned up at his work twice. Three times, if you count his Christmas party, which I don't, because he said he was going to take me to that anyway. Stalking is when you follow them to the shops and on holiday and all that, isn't it? Well, I never went near any shops. And anyway I didn't think it was stalking when someone owed you an explanation. Being owed an explanation is like being owed money, and not just a fiver, either. Five or six hundred quid minimum, more like. If you were owed five or six hundred quid minimum and the person who owed it to you was avoiding you, then you're bound to knock on his door late at night, when you know he's going to be in. People get serious about that sort of money. They call in debt collectors, and break people's legs, but I never went that far. I showed some restraint.

So even though I could see straight away that he wasn't at this party, I stayed for a while. Where else was I going to go? I was feeling sorry for myself. How can you be eighteen and not have anywhere to go on New Year's Eve, apart from some shit party in some shit squat where you don't know anybody? Well, I managed it. I seem to manage it every year. I make friends easily enough, but then I piss them off, I know that much, even if I'm not sure why or how. And so people and parties disappear.

I pissed Jen off, I'm sure of that. She disappeared, like everyone else.

MARTIN

I'd spent the previous couple of months looking up suicide inquests on the Internet, just out of curiosity. And nearly every single time, the coroner says the same thing: "He took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed." And then you read the story about the poor bastard: his wife was sleeping with his best friend, he'd lost his job, his daughter had been killed in a road accident some months before.... Hello, Mr Coroner? Anyone at home? I'm sorry, but there's no disturbed mental balance here, my friend. I'd say he got it just right. Bad thing upon bad thing upon bad thing until you can't take any more, and then it's off to the nearest multi-storey car park in the family hatchback with a length of rubber tubing. Surely that's fair enough? Surely the coroner's inquest should read, "He took his own life after sober and careful contemplation of the fucking shambles it had become"?

Not once did I read a newspaper report, which convinced me that the deceased was off the old trolley. You know: "The Manchester United forward, who was engaged to the current Miss Sweden, had recently achieved a unique Double: he is the only man ever to have won the FA Cup and an Oscar for Best Actor in the same year. The rights to his first novel had just been bought for an undisclosed sum by Stephen Spielberg. He was found hanging from a beam in his stables by a member of his staff." Now, I've never seen a coroner's report like that, but if there were cases in which happy, successful, talented people took their own lives, one could safely come to the conclusion that the old balance was indeed wonky. And I'm not saying that being engaged to Miss Sweden, playing for Manchester United and winning Oscars inoculates you against depression - I'm sure it doesn't. I'm just saying that these things help. Look at the statistics. You're more likely to top yourself if you've just gone through a divorce. Or if you're anorexic. Or if you're unemployed. Or if you're a prostitute. Or if you've fought in a war, or if you've been raped, or if you've lost somebody..... There are lots and lots of factors that push people over the edge; none of these factors are likely to make you feel anything but fucking miserable.

Two years ago Martin Sharp would not have found himself sitting on a tiny concrete ledge in the middle of the night, looking a hundred feet down at a concrete walkway and wondering whether he'd hear the noise that his bones made when they shattered into tiny pieces. But two years ago Martin Sharp was a different person. I still had my job. I still had a wife. I hadn't slept with a fifteen-year-old. I hadn't been to prison. I hadn't had to talk to my young daughters about a front- page tabloid newspaper article, an article headlined with the word SLEAZEBAG! and illustrated with a picture of me lying on the pavement outside a well-known London nightspot. (What would the headline have been if I had gone over? "SLEAZY DOES IT!" perhaps. Or maybe "SHARP END!") There was, it is fair to say, less reason for ledge-sitting before all that happened. So don't tell me that the balance of my mind was disturbed, because it really didn't feel that way. (What does it mean, anyway, that stuff about "the balance of the mind"? Is it strictly scientific? Does the mind really wobble up and down in the head like some sort of fish-scale, according to how loopy you are?) Wanting to kill myself was an appropriate and reasonable response to a whole series of unfortunate events that had rendered life unlivable. Oh, yes, I know the shrinks would say that they could have helped, but that's half the trouble with this bloody country, isn't it? No one's willing to face their responsibilities. It's always someone else's fault. Boo-hoo-hoo. Well, I happen to be one of those rare individuals who believe that what went on with Mummy and Daddy had nothing to do with me screwing a fifteen-year-old. I happen to believe that I would have slept with her regardless of whether I'd been breast-fed or not, and it was time to face up to what I'd done. And what I'd done is, I'd pissed my life away. Literally. Well, OK, not literally literally. I hadn't, you know, turned my life into urine and stored it in my bladder and so on and so forth. But I felt as if I'd pissed my life away in the same way that you can piss money away. I'd had a life, full of kids and wives and jobs and all the usual stuff, and I'd somehow managed to mislay it. No, you see, that's not right. I knew where my life was, just as you know where money goes when you piss it away. I hadn't mislaid it at all. I'd spent it. I'd spent my kids and my job and my wife on teenage girls and nightclubs: these things all come at a price, and I'd happily paid it, and suddenly my life wasn't there any more. What would I be leaving behind? On New Year's Eve, it felt as though I'd be saying goodbye to a dim form of consciousness and a semi-functioning digestive system - all the indications of a life, certainly, but none of the content. I didn't even feel sad, particularly. I just felt very stupid, and very angry.

I'm not sitting here now because I suddenly saw sense. The reason I'm sitting here now is because that night turned into as much of a mess as everything else. I couldn't even jump off a fucking tower block without fucking it up.

MAUREEN

On New Year's Eve the nursing home sent their ambulance round for him. You had to pay extra for that, but I didn't mind. How could I? In the end, Matty was going to cost them a lot more than they were costing me. I was only paying for a night, and they were going to pay for the rest of his life.

I thought about hiding some of Matty's stuff, in case they thought it was odd, but no one had to know it was his. I could have had loads of kids, as far as they knew, so I left it there. They came around six, and these two young fellas wheeled him out. I couldn't cry when he went, because then the young fellas would know something was wrong; as far as they knew, I was coming to fetch him at eleven the next morning. I just kissed him on the top of his head and told him to be good at the home, and I held it all in until I'd seen them leave. Then I wept and wept, for about an hour. He'd ruined my life, but he was still my son, and I was never going to see him again, and I couldn't even say goodbye properly. I watched the television for a while, and I did have one or two glasses of sherry, because I knew it would be cold out.

I waited at the bus stop for ten minutes, but then I decided to walk. Knowing that you want to die makes you less scared.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

CJ Halladay, February 22, 2014 (view all comments by CJ Halladay)
"A Long Way Down" is a beautiful mix of voices and ideas weaving their way down this road of life. Told in alternative voice of four characters who come together under negative circumstances, this novel shows both the depth of despair and the beauty of simple endurance. Characters are each loveable but flawed. The humor is subtle, but perfectly fit into the story. I am not normally a Nick Hornby fan, but I found myself unable to put this book down. This is a worthwhile read, especially before the film is set to come out.
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Liza, November 9, 2008 (view all comments by Liza)
A touching, heartbreaking and often hilarious story about four people who meet atop a building in London, each planning on jumping to their death. Instead, they become an unusual support group for each other. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view, and Hornby's trademark humor is throughout.
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(6 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)
heathersina, November 2, 2007 (view all comments by heathersina)
At first, I was shocked by what was actually going on in the first chapter of the book, but as you read more about each character, you sympathize and your heart breaks for some of them as they deal with their inner struggle. Beautifully written.
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(10 of 18 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781594481932
Author:
Hornby, Nick
Publisher:
Riverhead Trade
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
London (england)
Subject:
Suicidal behavior
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
May 2, 2006
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
black-and-white photos throughout
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8 x 5.13 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

A Long Way Down: A Novel Used Trade Paper
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Product details 352 pages Riverhead Books - English 9781594481932 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Nick Hornby is the Dickens of our time. He's beloved by countless readers who don't otherwise care about novels. In the guise of effortless entertainment, his populist style delivers profound truths about the human condition. Both authors shaped novels to suit the media opportunities of the day: Dickens's were born of magazine serialization; Hornby's are screenplays waiting to happen. Nowadays, we are all orphans. Discuss.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "If Camus had written a grown-up version of The Breakfast Club, the result might have had more than a little in common with Hornby's grimly comic, oddly moving fourth novel. The story opens in London on New Year's Eve, when four desperate people — Martin, a publicly disgraced TV personality; Maureen, a middle-aged woman with no life beyond caring for her severely disabled adult son; Jess, the unstable, punked-out daughter of a junior government minister; and JJ, an American rocker whose music career has just ended with a whimper — meet on the roof of a building known as Toppers' House, where they have all come to commit suicide. Bonded by their shared misery, the unlikely quartet spends the night together, telling their stories, getting on each others' nerves even as they save each others' lives. They part the following morning, aware of having formed a peculiar sort of gang. As Jess reflects: 'When you're sad — like, really sad, Toppers' House sad — you only want to be with other people who are sad.' It's a bold setup, perilously high-concept, but Hornby pulls it off with understated ease. What follows is predictable in the broadest sense — as the motley crew of misfits coalesces into a kind of surrogate family, each individual takes a halting first step toward creating a tolerable future — but rarely in its particulars. Allowing the four main characters to narrate in round-robin fashion, Hornby alternates deftly executed comic episodes — an absurd brush with tabloid fame, an ill-conceived group vacation in the Canary Islands, a book group focused on writers who have committed suicide, a disastrous attempt to save Martin's marriage — with interludes of quiet reflection, some of which are startlingly insightful. Here, for example, is JJ, talking about the burden of understanding that he no longer wants to kill himself: 'In a way, it makes things worse, not better....Telling yourself life is shit is like an anesthetic, and when you stop taking the Advil, then you really can tell how much it hurts, and where, and it's not like that kind of pain does anyone a whole lot of good.' While the reader comes to know all four characters well by the end of the novel, it's Maureen who stands out. A prim, old-fashioned Catholic woman who objects to foul language, Maureen is, on the surface, the least Hornbyesque of characters. Unacquainted with pop culture, she has done nothing throughout her entire adult life except care for a child who doesn't even know she's there and attend mass. As she says, 'You know that things aren't going well for you when you can't even tell people the simplest fact about your life, just because they'll presume you're asking them to feel sorry for you.' Hornby takes a Dickensian risk in creating a character as saintly and pathetic as Maureen, but it pays off. In her own quiet way, she's an unforgettable figure, the moral and emotional center of the novel. This is a brave and absorbing book. It's a thrill to watch a writer as talented as Hornby take on the grimmest of subjects without flinching, and somehow make it funny and surprising at the same time. And if the characters occasionally seem a little more eloquent or self-aware than they have a right to be, or if the novel turns just the tiniest bit sentimental at the end, all you can really fault Hornby for is an act of excessive generosity, an authorial embrace bestowed upon some characters who are sorely in need of a hug.175,000 first printing. (June) Tom Perrotta's most recent novel, Little Children, has just been published in paperback by St. Martin's Griffin." Tom Perrotta, Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Hornby's real talent is for dialogue, which is sharp, funny, and dripping with sarcasm. Take out the inner discourse, the ill-conceived group vacation, and the bewildering circular rants in between, and you've got a pretty salty bit of black humor. That is, take out all the bits that make A Long Way Down a novel, and you've got a tidy little comic screenplay....Unfortunately, A Long Way Down is not a cheeky British Hugh Grant snark-fest but a novel with pretensions at depth, theme, and story — and a lazy one at that." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "[Hornby] expands far beyond his usual territory....The true revelation of this funny and moving novel is its realistic, all-too-human characters, who stumble frequently, moving along their redemptive path only by increments."
"Review" by , "[A] well-executed and thoughtful tale that never digs too deep and simultaneously doesn't denigrate the seriousness of its characters' dilemmas. Highly moving and lively storytelling: Hornby's gifts become more apparent with each outing."
"Review" by , "[A] maudlin bit of tripe....[T]his cringe-making excuse for a novel takes the sappy contrivances of his 2001 book, How to Be Good, to an embarrassing new low....[A] sappy and utterly predictable novel."
"Review" by , "The sitcom contrivance of [Hornby's] set-up...becomes a writing trap; so does his decision to rely on the first person in a story that cries out for some objectivity, since his narrators aren't very insightful about anything but their own bad moods. (Grade: B-)"
"Review" by , "In spite of the seriousness of the novel's main theme — suicide — [it] contains many funny moments....With A Long Way Down, Hornby has written one of those books that if you get into it, the ride is wild and enjoyable."
"Review" by , "A Long Way Down works in enough analysis of its humans' conditions to entertain without overwhelming a strong story."
"Review" by , "[A] mordant, brilliant novel....For a story that begins with one foot off the cliff, it's hard to imagine a novel more darkly and sublimely devoted to life."
"Review" by , "Hornby is an engaging enough writer to wring a whole lot of enjoyment out of a flimsy and somewhat off-putting plot. A Long Way Down is not his best book, but calling it his worst — while technically true — is still misleading."
"Review" by , "That rare and unexpected creature, a playful novel about suicide....It's more about what happens when you don't kill yourself, and the tale Hornby subsequently tells is an unusual and unpredictable one."
"Review" by , "The tireless bickering, especially between Martin and Jess, makes one wonder why the foursome doesn't kill one another. There are flashes of Hornby's talent for the tragicomic in Martin...but overall, this is a slip-up."
"Review" by , "Hornby seems to have sent his ordinarily tuneful (and hilarious) ear on a holiday. One character sounds like the other sounds like the other sounds like the other. This might seem a small problem, but it wrenches the book's most important leg out from beneath it."
"Review" by , "By using suicide as a 'meet cute' premise, Hornby introduces into the book a sour, artificial flavor that — despite clever writing and engaging characters — he's never quite able to mask."
"Review" by , "Hornby took a risk with the premise of A Long Way Down, as it teeters on the edge between believability and authorial manipulation, but his narrative is so winning that only the least game of readers will refuse to play along."
"Review" by , "[P]erhaps the funniest and most exhilarating novel ever written about group suicide....Only a cynic would not see A Long Way Down as a long way up from much modern fiction, which seems to have been written to supply us with reasons to jump."
"Review" by , "A Long Way Down overreaches and under-reaches at the same time....Despite the seemingly serious premise, what Hornby has produced is not a profound novel about death wishes, but a pedestrian one about lifestyles."
"Review" by , "[T]he premise of the story is so implausible that it would make difficult fodder for a comic TV sketch, let alone a novel of more than 300 pages....A Long Way Down is almost certain to disappoint Hornby's legion of longtime fans."
"Synopsis" by , In his eagerly-awaited fourth novel, New York Times bestselling author Nick Hornby mines the hearts and psyches of four lost souls who connect just when they've reached the end of the line.
"Synopsis" by ,
From the bestselling author ofand#160;High Fidelity,and#160;About a Boy, andand#160;A Long Way Downand#160;comes a highly anticipated new novel.
and#160;
Set in 1960's London,and#160;Funny Girland#160;is a livelyand#160;account ofand#160;the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation fromand#160;provincial ingand#233;nue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful andand#160;humorous, Nick Hornby's latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process.

"Synopsis" by ,

In his fourth novel, New York Times-bestselling author Nick Hornby mines the hearts and psyches of four lost souls who connect just when they've reached the end of the line.

Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year's Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper's House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives.

In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances.

Intense, hilarious, provocative, and moving, A Long Way Down is a novel about suicide that is, surprisingly, full of life.

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