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A Long Way Down (Nick Hornby)

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Cut to the Chase:
What happens when four very different people meet on the roof of Toppers’ House in Britain, each wanting to kill themselves on New Year’s Eve? The characters who meet and narrate Hornby’s fourth novel could almost be the beginning of a bad joke — a disgraced television personality (he slept with a 15-year-old who said she was 16), the somewhat deranged young daughter of the junior education minister, an American rocker whose band has broken up without ever going anywhere, and a spinster who has spent her life taking care of her severely disabled son. We rotate between four different first-person narrations, and though this allows us a deeper glimpse into each of our protagonists, it also seemed to force them to stay somewhat caricatured, because there isn’t really space to develop four individuals who are this different from one another. Still, this is a quick and entertaining read. Hornby’s strength is in witty, quick dialogue and almost narcissistic self-reflection; the fact that suicidality is what brings these people together ends up being more of a quirk of fate than a depressing centerpiece.
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How to Be Good (Nick Hornby)

0.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
It’s tough to think that maybe a writer just has a niche, but Hornby, who’s done an excellent job perfecting the immature, flawed, yet redeemable adult male prototype, somehow completely fails when he tries to capture a similarly multilayered female protagonist.  Our heroine is a GP who thinks she is good (because she cares about things like causes, and is a GP, and tries to be a decent mother and a loyal wife until the start of our novel), but who is ultimately not only very flawed and imperfect, but downright annoying. There’s nothing to grasp onto and keep you reading in this book — Katie (our GP) and her husband David are clearly miserable and self-absorbed, with their kids being more there as staging and background rather than any real presence.  The dialogue is quick and light, and there are moments of levity, but overall, I found it very hard to relate, or even want to relate, to any of the characters or situations.
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