A Long Way Down

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A Long Way Down

Long Way Down, A - Hardcover - USA - 2005 - Riverhead.jpg

Hardcover - USA - 1st edition.

Author Nick Hornby
Published 2005-06-17
Type Fiction
Genre Comedy, Drama
Themes Divorce, Drama, Friendship, Suicide
Age Group Adult

A Long Way Down is a dramatic dark comedy novel by Nick Hornby and published on 2005-06-07. In 2014, the book was adapted into a movie.

The novel follows four characters — Martin, Maureen, Jess, and J.J. — who each coincidentally show up at the same place and time to kill themselves, thus ruining the attempt for each other. The book's perspective shifts between each of the four characters as they try to understand why the others wanted to commit suicide and how they try to continue their lives afterward. They agree to meet again after several weeks with the hope that their lives will somehow get better, though none can see how that might possibly happen.


Own?Hardcover, USA, 1st edition.
Read?Hardcover, USA, 1st edition / Audiobook read by Kate Reading, Simon Vance, and Scott Brick.
FinishedAround 2006 / 2024-04-23.

Being a fan of High Fidelity, I bought this book without knowing anything about it. I started loving it very early in the book, and, once I finished it, it became my favorite of Hornby's work. I had planned on re-reading it, but, when I found and audiobook, I decided to listen to it instead.

The movie has the same characters and roughly the same plot, so it was decent, but it's missing most of the clever thoughts Hornby has his character's think, the character's ages were changed a fair amount, and the ending was altered to make it more happy. All of these changes hurt the work, and the visual effects look pretty bad, so it's not nearly as good as the book.





  • I like how the book doesn't sugar-coat any of the problems of the four main characters. Each has plausible and deeply-rooted reasons for wanting to kill themselves.
  • Having the novel swap between the perspectives of the four main characters was a challenge that was executed beautifully. They each have their own motives, desires, and ways of thinking about the world, and each feels genuine.
  • The book has a lot of dark humor, particularly in the first section, which I adore.
  • The biting monologues of Martin and Jess in particular is hilarious, as are the naive thoughts of Maureen.


  • The third section of the book felt like it was paced a little slowly.


  • Nothing.




Strong female character?PassJess and Maureen both grow and become stronger throughout the book.
Bechdel test?PassMaureen and Jess talk together multiple times throughout the book.
Strong person of color character?FailThe only person of color I remember is a taxi driver who plays a minor role.
Queer character?FailThere aren't any queer characters.


There are several more quotes I need to get from the book that I was unable to find when I listened to the audiobook, but I'll add them the next time I re-read it in print.

— This section contains spoilers! —

  • JJ: I had wanted to kill myself not because I hated living, but because I loved it. And the truth of the matter is, I think, that a lot of people who think about killing themselves feel the same way - I think that's how Maureen and Jess and Martin feel. They love life, but it's all fucked up for them, and that's why I met them, and that's why we're all still around. We were up on the roof because we couldn't find a way back into life, and being shut out of it like that... It just fucking destroys you, man. So it's like an act of despair, not an act of nihilism.
  • Maureen: My own feeling about JJ, without knowing anything about him, was that he might have been a gay person, because he had long hair and spoke American. A lot of Americans are gay people aren't they? I know they didn't invent gayness, because they say that was the Greeks. But they helped bring it back into fashion. Being gay was a bit like the Olympics: It disappeared in ancient times, and then they brought it back in the twentieth century. Anyway, I didn't know anything about gays, so I just presumed they were all unhappy and wanted to kill themselves.
  • JJ: A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they've all let him down.
  • Maureen: I may not know the weight of those things, but I could feel the weight of that one, so I kept it to myself. You know that things aren't going well for you when you can't even tell people the simplest fact about your life, just because they'll presume you're asking them to feel sorry for you. I suppose it's why you feel so far away from everyone, in the end; anything you can think of to tell them just ends up making them feel terrible.
  • Martin: That's the thing with the young these days, isn't it? They watch too many happy endings. Everything has to be wrapped up, with a smile and a tear and a wave. Everyone has learned, found love, seen the error of their ways, discovered the joys of monogamy, or fatherhood, or filial duty, or life itself. In my day, people got shot at the end of films, after learning only that life is hollow, dismal, brutish, and short.
  • Jess: I don't know you. The only thing I know about you is, you're reading this. I don't know if you're happy or not; I don't know whether you're young or not. I sort of hope you're young and sad. If you're old and happy, I can imagine that you'll smile to yourself when you hear me going, he broke my heart. You'll remember someone who broke your heart, and you'll think to yourself, Oh yes, i remember how that feels. But you can't, you smug old git. Oh you'll remember feeling sort of pleasantly sad. You might remember listening to music and eating chocolates in your room, or walking along the embankment on your own, wrapped up in a winter coat and feeling lonely and brave. But can you remember how with every mouthful of food it felt like you were biting into your own stomach? Can you remember the taste of red wine as it came back up and into the toilet bowl? Can you remember dreaming every night that you were still together, that he was talking to you gently and touching you, so that every morning when you woke up you had to go through it all over again?
  • JJ: A middle-aged woman who looked like someone's cleaning lady, a shrieking adolescent lunatic and a talkshow host with an orange face... It didn't add up. Suicide wasn't invented for people like this. It was invented for people like Virginia Woolf and Nick Drake. And Me. Suicide was supposed to be cool.
  • Jess: The trouble with my generation is that we all think we're fucking geniuses. Making something isn't good enough for us, and neither is selling something, or teaching something, or even just doing something; we have to be something. It's our inalienable right, as citizens of the twenty-first century. If Christina Aguilera or Britney or some American Idol jerk can be something, then why can't I? Where's mine, huh?
  • Martin: Just about everyone I've ever interviewed has told me that by doing something or other--recovering from cancer, climbing a mountain, playing the part of a serial killer in a movie--they have learned something about themselves. And I always nod and smile thoughtfully, when really I want to pin them down: What did you learn from the cancer, actually? That you don't like being sick? That you don't want to die? That wigs make your scalp itch? Come on, be specific. I suspect it's something they tell themselves in order to turn the experience into something that might appear valuable, rather than a complete and utter waste of time.
  • JJ: I had forgotten that Jess felt about long words the way that racists feel about black people: she hated them, and wanted to send them back from where they came from.
  • Jess: I don't think you can call it stalking when it's just phone calls and letters and emails and knocking on the door.
  • Jess: I could feel the weight of everything then --- the weight of loneliness, of everything that had gone wrong. I felt heroic, going up those last few flights to the top of the building, dragging that weight along with me. Jumping felt like the only way to get rid of it, the only way to make it work for me instead of against me; I felt so heavy that I knew I'd hit the street in no time. I'd beat the world record for falling off a tower block.


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