Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

This is a wonderful book. This is the first Nick Hornby book that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it.

I think everyone knows the premise: four people planning to kill themselves on New Year’s Eve run into each other on the same rooftop, talk each other into living for another six weeks and form a bond. The story is thus about this group and how they decide to continue living. It’s four people who would otherwise have absolutely nothing in common and together they provide some very entertaining experiences.

I liked the way Hornby addressed the issues of depression and despair and reaching the point where a person just doesn’t want to continue living. Hornby respects his characters and he doesn’t treat them as crazy or selfish. I felt like he really showed them as people who have simply reached a point where going forward is very, nearly unbearable.

I’m told that there are people in the world who have never contemplated suicide. How nice it must be to be one of those people. That is something I can’t even imagine, much as those people probably can’t imagine what it feels like to want to stop living.

Reading this book provided a sense of validation, an acknowledgment that these feelings are real and other people have them. I know it’s a work of fiction, but the fact that someone was able to write about these things means that probably somewhere, someone has also felt these things. The kind of pain described on these pages, when it’s happening, you’re certain that no one else in the world has ever felt this bad. But reading this, there are so many moments when I was like, “yes, that’s exactly how it feels”.

One thing this book showed is that sometimes all you need is for someone to acknowledge you. You need to know that other people are expecting you. That’s what saves these people, the fact that they have to meet for coffee in a week, or at the pub in another week, another meeting at the end of the three months. When a person reaches the point where no one knows he exists that’s when he realizes it is okay to stop existing. When you realize that nothing in the world will change if you live or die, no one will even notice you're gone, that’s when you know you don’t need to live anymore. I believe the accepted theory is that suicide happens when your pain outweighs your coping resources -- and everyone has different coping resources, which is why it is so difficult for some to understand the act. That night on the rooftop, these four people gained a stronger set of coping resources. Because they ran into each other, suddenly they have a support system that they had not had before.

I also appreciated that there wasn’t a tidy, happy ending. That would have greatly detracted from the story if everyone had lived happily ever after. They aren’t suddenly repaired and well again because of what happened. They are simply living, for now. For another six months at least because that’s when they plan to meet again.

I highly recommend this book. Though, I’m curious as to other’s opinions. How do I put it nicely? I’m curious as how the mentally sane and stable will regard this book. I wonder, if you’ve never been in that position if you can understand what the characters are going through or if you will even find their experiences all that interesting, or will they simply seem absurd and overdramatic?

Read Aug. 22, 2005

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