About a Boy, by Nick Hornby

About a Boy, by Nick Hornby

Title: About a Boy
Author: Nick Hornby
Pages: 320
Originally Published: 1998
Format I Read: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: [rating:4]

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So, prior to this Nick Hornby, male-British-writer-God, and I had met just once before, in High Fidelity.  Actually, I guess we had met one other time, on the silver screen, in the movie version of About a Boy.  With its excellent writing and talented cast, it was a movie that I loved and rewatched probably a half a dozen times.  The lexicon of the movie has made its way into my everyday life.  (I encourage you to check out the quotes on its IMDb page.)  But I never even thought about reading the book until my book club selected it.  And it turns out that the movie essentially transported the book (at least the first two-thirds of it) straight onto the screen.

The boy(s).  Will, a thirty-something heir with no emotional attachments, meets Marcus, an uncool twelve-year-old with a crazy mum.

While I had a hard time separating the movie images from the book, it should come as no surprise that, in most ways, the book is better.  The voices of Will and Marcus are so distinct and real.  And the writing is just fabulous.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes about the way that Will measures the day:

His way of coping with the days was to think of activities as units of time, each unit consisting of about thirty minutes.  Whole hours, he found, were more intimidating, and most things one could do in a day took half an hour.  Reading the paper, having a bath, tidying the flat, watching Home and Away and Countdown, doing a quick crossword on the toilet, eating breakfast and lunch, going to the local shops…  That was nine units of a twenty-unit day (the evenings didn’t count) filled by just the basic necessities.  In fact, he had reached a stage where he wondered how his friends could juggle life and a job.  Life took up so much time, so how could one work and, say, take a bath on the same day?  He suspected that one or two people he knew were making some pretty unsavoury short cuts.

Here are two more from Marcus that capture the heart of the story; one from the middle of the book and one from the end:

. . . [A]t the time he hadn’t worked out that two was a dangerous number. Now he had worked that out, . . . he didn’t care whether the family he wanted were all men, or all women, or all children. He simply wanted people.

I was really scared because I didn’t think two was enough, and now there aren’t two anymore.  There are loads.  And you’re better off that way.

I found Will to be a sympathetic character, despite his selfish life.  He grew the most over the course of the book.  Actually, the character I struggled with the most was Marcus’s mom, Fiona.  I just wanted to shake her some of the time.  But that shows that these characters were real.  Oh so real in both their imperfections and in their growth.

Just a couple of last notes.  I prefer the book’s ending.  It’s less Hollywood, more real to life.  Also, note that this is a rather male book.  Both of the main characters are male, of course, and their world views are absolutely male.  I don’t see this is a negative, but it can be off-putting if you’re not expecting it.

The bottom line is that this is an interesting story peopled with real characters who interact in funny and affecting ways.  Nick Hornby has an undeniable ability to capture characters and language to great effect.  I will be reading more by him.  (I have his essay collection, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, just screaming at me from my shelves.)

About a Boy, by Nick Hornby [rating:4]

Have you read or reviewed this book too? Feel free to jump in with your thoughts or leave a link to your review in the comments.