Sep 12, 2007

About a Boy by Nick Hornby

This novel’s two main characters are Will, age thirty-six, and Marcus, age twelve. The story is told from the points of view of these two characters in alternating chapters. At first glance, they have nothing in common, but their paths end up crossing in a most interesting way.

Marcus is a peculiar twelve-year-old. He listens to Joni Mitchell and Mozart and Bob Marley; he doesn’t wear the kind of clothes other kids his age wear; he has absolutely no idea what is cool and what is not. Will, on the other hand, is trendy and keeps up with what kids are into, despite his age. Marcus’ life is hard: he has just moved to London, life at his new school is miserable, and his single mother is severely depressed. Will’s life is much too easy: his father wrote a famous Christmas song and he lives off the royalties, he’s never had a job in his life, and things like disappointment, struggle or heartbreak are completely alien to him.

As Will and Marcus become a part of each other’s lives, they teach each other to be more like the other: Will learns to actually care, to get involved with things, and Marcus learns to let go, and that not caring is an essential survival strategy at times.

I had forgotten that I like Nick Hornby so much. I find his books so enjoyable. I love the way he writes – it’s so simple, and yet so effective, so precise. Here’s an example, from the novel’s second page:
When Marcus and his mum argued, you could hear the important bits: too much, too expensive, too late, too young, bad for your teeth, the other channel, homework, fruit. But when his mum and her boyfriends argued, you could listen for hours and still miss the point, the thing, the fruit and homework part of it. It was like they’d been told to argue and just came out with anything they could think of.
About a Boy sucked me in right away. The tone in which it’s written seems casual, and yet it still says things that really matter. The plot may not be the most complex or the most original, and yet the characters are complex, and they feel like real people you are slowly getting to know. Somehow I imagined this book to be completely different. I thought it’d be about a man falling in love with a single mother with a twelve-year-old kid. Instead, it is about an unlikely friendship, and what both parties gain from it. It’s about how a twelve-year-old and a thirty-six-year-old help each other grow up.

I have met a good share of people like Will in my life. People who go through life with constant detachment, who never get involved with anything or anyone, who refuse to be passionate about anything at all. At some point in the novel, this is said about Will:
When it came down to it, he just wasn’t that engaged. You had to be engaged to be a vegetarian; you had to be engaged to sing “Both Sides Now” with your eyes closed; when it came down to it, you had to be engaged to be a mother. He wasn’t much bothered either way about anything, and that, he knew, would guarantee him a long and depression-free life.
Living like that does keep one from getting hurt. The trouble is, it also keeps one from actually being alive. This is what Will grudgingly comes to admit to himself. Being passionate about things and people does make you vulnerable, but it also gives your life a kind of substance it can’t otherwise have.
Life was, after all, like air. Will could have no doubt about that anymore. There seemed to be no way of keeping it out, or at a distance, and all he could do for the moment was live it and breathe it. How people managed to draw it down into their lungs was a mystery to him: it was full of bits. This was air you could almost chew.
Another thing I loved about this book was the constant presence of references to 90’s pop culture. I was a bit younger than Marcus in 1993, but I was also a kid, and I remember renting and watching “Groundhog Day”, I remember Nirvana’s ascension to fame, and I of course remember the day Kurt Cobain died. I wasn’t into Nirvana (I was a Smashing Pumpkins girl, which is what Marcus becomes at the end of the book, to my delight), but my brother was, and when I saw the news on TV I went to tell him. Having memories of my own surrounding these things made the book even more meaningful for me.

Now that I’ve read it, I can finally watch the movie adaptation. I’m going to rent the DVD as soon as I have the chance. I’ve heard good things about it, but I’m not quite sure what to expect. So much of the book’s greatness comes from Nick Hornby’s writing, and also from the amazing character development, which is easy to get across when you have access to the character’s thoughts. In a movie, though, that’s much harder to pull off well. Also, I’ve been told that the movie has a different ending, and that makes me a little suspicious, because I really liked the novel’s ending. It felt so… natural. It fit the story so well.

My boyfriend hasn’t read the book, but he’s watched the movie, and he told me it was enjoyable enough, but it lacked a little extra something to be remarkable. I guess that’s what I’ll be expecting when I watch it. Nick Hornby’s novel, however, does have that little extra something.

And with this book, I finished Callista's Book to Movie Challenge. I loved all of my selections for it, so it couldn't have gone better for me. Thank you Callista for this great challenge!

Reviewed at:
somewhere i have never travelled


  1. I'm really glad you enjoyed this book. I love Hornby as you know and was really pleased you chose to read this. I like the film (it has something missing yes, but the kid playing Marcus is fantastic). You should read his other novels (except perhaps Fever Pitch which is a little more football than you perhaps need if you are like me).

  2. Very nice review. I tried reading High Fidelity a number of years ago, and I could never get into it. Since then I haven't had much interest in Hornby aside from this Believer column. However, this review just might change that. About a Boy sounds like a winner!

  3. High Fidelity is the only Hornby book I've read and I don't know why I haven't read more after enjoying it so much. It was a great book and I enjoyed ever minute of it. The characters really were great characters and like you said,they truly were representative of people you meet in every day life...people who are struggling to fit in and find their passions.

    I haven't seen the movie because I was scared of what they would do to the book :p But I've heard good things about it, so I'm going to have to check it out one of these days. I just never pictured Will as Hugh Grant and didn't see how that would work...but maybe it did.

    What other Hornby books would you recommend?

  4. I've didn't read the book, but found the movie really enjoyable. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment by the way!

  5. I loved the movie! My sister picked it out in Blockbuster a couple years ago, and I expected it to be awful, but it was really charming.

    I didn't know it was based on a book! I'm almost afraid to read Hornby's fiction, because I really enjoyed his non-fic, and I absolutely hated the movie High Fidelity. And for some reason, I'm very concerned I'll hate his books as much as that movie. And then I wouldn't be able to enjoy his non-fic.

    Sometimes I think I overanalyse. ;)

  6. Oh Nymeth...another incredibly beautiful, thoughtful review! You've sold me...this sounds like a book I would treasure! And before reading your review I never would have given it a second look.

  7. Wow what a thorough review! I'm glad you enjoyed the book and that you had fun with the Book to Movie Challenge. If you do decide to read more books that fit in with the theme, let me know so I can link to them too.

    I've now linked to this review.

  8. Rhinoa: You were the reason why I picked this one. I really want to read more of his work. I think I'll pick up "A Long Way Down" next. I also really want to read his non-fiction. And I agree, Fever Pitch sounds a little too footballish for my taste too.

    Andi: I enjoyed High Fidelity a lot, but I liked this one even more. I think you should definitely give it a try.

    Chris: I don't know why it took me so long to pick up more of this books either. I only read "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity", so I can't recommend any more. You should ask Rhinoa :P

    Stephanie: That's what everyone says of the movie. Perhaps I should wait a few weeks so that I'm not so attentive to the little changes they will inevitably have made to the book and can enjoy it properly. You're welcome - thank you for visiting mine too :)

    Eva: I liked the High Fidelity movie, but the book was much better. I'm not sure if it's different enough for someone who hated the movie to enjoy, though. But you should try "About a Boy". I haven't read his non-fiction, but in his fiction you can tell that he is a really gifted writer, and that's worth something even if you don't enjoy the plot very much.

    Debi: Just from the plot summary I wouldn't think I'd be drawn to this book either... I just read it because it's by Nick Hornby. But then I was very pleasantly surprised!

    Callista: I will make sure I'll let you know if I do manage to add more books. Thanks again for this great challenge!

  9. I haven't read the book, so I cannot comment on that, but I certainly don't think the film has anything missing at all. It is a wonderful movie that hits all the right emotional notes and really makes you fall in love with all of the characters. It is one that I like to pick up and watch every so often simply because it is so enjoyable.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.