Long Way Down

Nick Hornby, 2005.

New Year’s Eve is by far the most popular date
to commit suicide. This is not surprising: if you are going to take your own
life, why not do it on the day that symbolizes the end of an era, instead of on
a regular date, like the 3rd of March, which symbolizes, well,
nothing? Exactly.  The week leading upto
New Year’s Eve makes miserable people feel even more miserable about their
miserable lives: folks rushing through stores buying the last necessities for
an unforgettable New Year’s Eve with their dear friends and family make them
feel even lonelier than the jolly Christmas ornaments which are spread
throughout the city like a plague, reminding them of their own not-so-merry
Christmas they are trying to forget. It’s the ending of yet another shitty
year, but instead of relief they feel discouragement by the thought  of the miserable 365 days ahead of them.

In Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, four of these miserable people coincidentally meet
on the roof of a building in London on the 31st of December. Martin,
Maureen, Jess and JJ are four extremely different people who have one thing in
common: they want to jump.

Martin is the first person to arrive on the
roof. He used to be a successful television host who had it all: money, fame
and a family. Unfortunately he managed to lose it all by sleeping with a
fifteen year-old. Though that sounds like a pretty gross thing to do for a man
in his forties, Martin ultimately is a good person who, after making a huge
mistake and spending several months in jail paying for this, finds his life and
family in ruins. He feels like he ‘pissed his life away’ and therefore he wants
to end it.

While Martin is standing on the edge of the roof over thinking his decision one
more time, he is patted on the shoulder by Maureen, who just arrived. She is a
middle-aged, single mother to a disabled son who takes up all of her time. She
used to have a career and be outgoing, but since the birth of her only child 18
years ago, her entire life revolves around taking care of him and she lives a
rather isolated life. She has no time to work and as a consequence she is
always coping with a scarcity of money. Her wishes and dreams are
heartbreakingly simple, like going on vacation. Life is exhausting her and the
only escape she can think of, is suicide.

While Martin and Maureen are discussing who gets to jump first and how much
privacy they’d like while committing suicide, Jess arrives. She’s a problematic
teenager who uses the word ‘fuck’ at least twice every 10 seconds. Her sister
Jen has been missing for two years now and is thought to have committed
suicide. Jess has not come to peace with this and in combination with the
terribly bad relationship she has with her parents and having her boyfriend
dumping her, it makes her want to put it all to an end.

As Martin and Maureen are trying to stop Jess from committing suicide at such a
young age, JJ arrives on the roof with a box of pizza. JJ is an American who
came to London for his two great loves: his girlfriend Lizzy and music.
Unfortunately these two turned out to be impossible to combine, and therefore
JJ quits his band Big Yellow and gives up on his dreams of becoming a rock star
to be with Lizzy. When she dumps him eventually, all JJ has left is his
pathetic job: delivering pizza. Besides the flop his life became, he is also
strongly convinced that he’s suffering from a deadly, unknown disease. He thinks
of himself as a misunderstood, tragic artist and finds that his reasons to
commit suicide are similar to those of great musicians.

None of them know what to do with this strange
situation, so they decide to eat JJ’s pizza together. Jess says that they
should share their sorrow. That’s how four completely different people find
themselves on the roof of a building on New Year’s Eve, sharing their darkest
thoughts with total strangers. The four of them decide not to commit suicide
that night but to postpone it for a little while. They agree on meeting again on
Valentine’s Day – the second most popular day to commit suicide…

A Long Way Down tells the story of people contemplating
suicide, thoughtfully considering the good and bad things in life. Hornby
manages to deal with this macabre subject in a light, humorous way without
trivializing it. The friendship and understanding the characters find in one
another offers them comfort,   but when the media finds out about their
curious ‘suicide-pact’,  their problems
become more and more invincible. As the plot unfolds, Martin, Maureen, Jess and
JJ grow closer and their lives become crazier, and the reader can’t put the
book down because of one tormenting question: will they do it? To jump or not
to jump – that’s the question.

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