With Nick Hornby’s newest book FUNNY GIRL just released stateside and a new film based on one of his screenplays, BROOKLYN, due out later this year, I thought the time was ripe to apply the ol’ Tuesday List Method to one of my favorite contemporary writers.
Nick Hornby’s Novels (Excepting the Just Released Funny Girl) Least to Most Favorite
6.) A Long Way Down- The premise, a quad of would-be jumpers who form a sort of support group while refusing to rule out another attempt, is so deliciously dark it gets you right on board from the starting gate. Alas, Hornby writes so convincingly about their pain and distress that the ending feels pat and unearned. It’s not that I want them to jump, it’s that I want to be convinced they don’t want to jump anymore. The book tells me they don’t, but it doesn’t really show me.
5.) How to Be Good- Starts wonderfully and ends on a wonderfully quiet note that captures monogamy and long-term love better than any other Hornby book. Sadly, there are a lot of words and chapters in between. Not bad, for sure, but draggy and overlong at times. I still am quite fond of it, but I can feel myself drift during the center piece in the re-read.
4.) Slam- Technically young adult, but I would challenge anyone to tell me the big differences, except for the protagonist being a 16 year old boy. Despite Hornby being in his last 40’s at the time, his Sam Jones feels just as honest and “right” as his Rob Gordon (in HIGH FIDELITY) who was nearly the same age as Hornby was when writing him. The book has some missteps here and there—it’s like Hornby saw the HIGH FIDELITY film and liked the Bruce Springsteen bit so much he had to use it here with Tony Hawk as the mentor figure and kept it even though it never quite works—but overall it is a compelling narrative about teen pregnancy that never lapses into lecture or needless triumphantism.
3.) Juliet, Naked- After a few novels that seemed to trip either in the middle and then recover or fall apart in the home stretch (see above How to Be Good and A Long Way Down respectively) this one holds it together start to finish. It’s fandom focused again, as most of his novels are in one way or another, but this one tackles it from multiple sides: the artist, the true believer, and the one who does not get what all the fuss is about. Arguably his most mature work to date.
2.) High Fidelity- My first Hornby book, at age 17, and the one that made me a fan for life. Although the protagonist and I are separated by geography, age (when I first read it), temperament, and more, I immediately took to Rob and to the story of that moment of his life. The way he “talked” about pop culture and life and love…it lingered.
1.) About a Boy- This one is by a nose. It’s just, just, just, a smidge better in my mind then HIGH FIDELITY. The plot’s a bit more complex, the characterization is a bit sharper and involves getting several “voices” right, not just one. FIDELITY is the one that I got and loved right away and my regard and remained more or less the same for it whereas for ABOUT A BOY, it grows every year.
And a Short Story Recommendation
NippleJesus- A story from SPEAKING WITH ANGELS, a book of short stories edited by Hornby. In it, a museum security guard protects the titular artwork, literally a portrait of Jesus made up of a mosaic of nipples, while slowly falling for the piece. The end, where the artist’s true intentions are revealed, bruises a bit more than you might expect due mostly to how well Hornby brings the blue collar intellectually curious guard to life