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Lonely, but Not Alone: 'Long Way Down'

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Nick Hornby has a new book out. Hornby is a London writer. He's best known in our country for his novels "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy," both turned into movies. His latest novel is called "A Long Way Down." Here's reviewer Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

New Year's Eve in London, and Martin, a former TV star who's just served time in prison because of an affair with an underage girl, has decided to end it all. He's gotten as far as the rooftop of a tall London building when he's joined by a middle-aged woman named Maureen who's also got suicide in mind. Her only son is impaired and lives in a wheelchair, and she's got no other life except him, and that's not enough for her. And then two more people appear on the parapet, poised to leave this cruel world behind: young Jess, who turns out to be the daughter of a high government official, and J.J., an American rock 'n' roller whose band has split up and is now making a living as a pizza delivery guy and so eager to make his dying.

Each tells his or her own story in the first person and unhappily, despite some running jokes about the younger characters' foul diction, there's not all that much distinction among the voices of the members of this suicidal quartet. This makes for an annoying blandness at first, though the class and age differences among them allow for some pleasant comedy, as do the various hungers and drives or lack of them among the feckless four.

The novel picks up in intensity as the four of them forge a pact to live another few months. They meet again and again to see how life is turning out. The quartet of would-be jumpers even starts a little book club, reading work by people who've killed themselves. One of their choices for the club is Virginia Woolf's novel "To the Lighthouse." As Jess, the government official's daughter, says, `I only read, like, two pages of this book, but I read enough to know why she killed herself. She killed herself because she couldn't make herself understood.' One of the pleasures and, I guess, one of the slight drawbacks to Nick Hornby's novel is that he doesn't have that problem.

BLOCK: The book is "A Long Way Down" by British author Nick Hornby. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.
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