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A Long Way Down

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Summary

In this novel by British author, Nick Hornby, who also wrote High Fidelity, four strangers meet on New Year's Eve when they all choose the same building roof in London from which to jump. Martin, Jess, Maureen and JJ come from very different backgrounds and lead very different lives, but they all have made the decision to end their respective lives. Meeting interrupts their plans, however, and the four form a sort of surrogate family that keeps them alive and helps them to overcome their issues.

Plot

First, readers meet Martin, a TV personality who was arrested for sleeping with a 15 year old girl (he was not aware of her age at the time). Having lost his wife and children in the scandal, not to mention his job, Martin feels there is little left to live for.

Maureen interrupts Martin's attempt, however, when she asks to borrow his ladder. Maureen is single mother of a disabled young man. Her son has been unable to communicate or care for himself since birth. Maureen is deeply devoted to him, and deeply religious, but has become so isolated as a result of caring for her son that she has sunk into a deep depression.

Next comes JJ, the only American in the crowd. His suicidal tendencies stem from the break-up of his band and his relationship with girlfriend Lizzie. However, Jess is embarrassed about his seemingly inconsequential reasons for suicide, and while on the roof, tells the group that he has an incurable disease.

Finally, there is Jess, a drug-addicted and troubled teenager whose sister went missing about a year before. Jess claims to be on the roof because her boyfriend has abandons her.

What gets the group off the roof initially is Jess. She convinces the other three to go with her to a party to confront the ex-boyfriend, who turns out to be one-night stand. After the confrontation is done, they all go back to Martin's place, feeling weird and uncomfortable with one another but not quite ready to abandon the thin rope that is keeping them all alive. Over the next year, the group will meet on a regular basis, telling each other their life stories and arguing with each other often. However, the interaction keeps them all interacting in the world, and helps to start the healing process. At one point, they decide to go on vacation together in what turns out to be a disastrous adventure. At another, Jess decides the "help" the group by having a family-oriented intervention at a Starbucks - again, disastrous. However, all their mis-steps are still steps, and then get through the year alive. One moment that reinforces their belief that they are, in fact, not truly suicidal is when they return to the roof to recognize the anniversary. While there, they see a man about to jump, and try to counsel him to reconsider. The man barely registers, and goes through with his own suicide - something none of them really foresaw for themselves.

Hornby uses a multiple viewpoint in this novel, telling each chapter from a different character's perspective and in that character's voice, in order to better examine the psychological inner dialogue that exists when life seems too hard to live.