A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby:
I find it difficult to read multiple books by the same author and not compare them, don't you? That's the case with A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, which I read because I enjoyed About a Boy so much. And there are lots of similarities: quirky characters, lots of British slang, a plot involving people trying to find their purpose in life. In fact, one character in this book tutors a young boy, which I thought was very About a Boy-ish.
The novel is about four mismatched people, with one thing in common: they all go to Topper's House, a well-known suicide spot, on New Year's Eve to jump off the roof. Martin used to be a presenter on a television program, but his life has become a downward spiral, and he's lost it all - his wife, his kids, his money and his dignity. Maureen has a 19 year old son who is in a vegetative state and can't get out from under his heavy burden. JJ is an American whose life goal is to be a musician - and his band just broke up and his girlfriend left him. Finally, Jess is 18 and already has a lifetime of issues, partially thanks to the disappearance of her older sister.
These four unhappy souls meet and unintentionally work together to piece their lives back together, but in a very real way (at one point, Jess tells us that we won't be finding out what happened to her sister - it's just not that kind of book). Thank goodness, because I'll take realistic versus fake happy endings any day.
For a story about four people wanting to commit suicide, it's remarkably funny. Throughout the book, any time a character swears around prim Maureen, they apologize with a "sorry, Maureen." This happens a lot, as there is a lot of swearing. In one scene, Jess's ex-boyfriend "swallowed this information almost visibly, like snakes swallow eggs: You could see the slow march to the brain." I love how the author is able to give his observations a humorous spin time and time again. And he keeps the plot moving in wonderfully unexpected ways - you'd think that these characters would just say their goodbyes and call it a night, but crazy things keep bringing them back together (like an angel who looks remarkably similar to Matt Damon, for instance).
The one downside to the novel, for me, was the character of Jess. She's wonderfully written, but I couldn't stand her in the least. It's hard to spend time with someone (even just an on-paper someone) whom you dislike so much - so in a way, I was pushing for the end just so I could get away from her. Kudos to the other three characters for sticking with her for so long.
I really enjoy Nick Hornby's writing style. High Fidelity is next on my list.