Nick Hornby's brilliant. If you think he isn't then it is, in fact, you who is not brilliant. You're unbrilliant. He is, I think, the writer I'd most like to be like. He's funny, extremely intelligent, a bit geeky, draws fully-realised, interesting, funny and likable characters, and has written some of the best books ever. He's also appeared on an episode of Jordan, Jesse, Go!, so I'm jealous about that too.
I started reading his books when I was but 12 years old with High Fidelity. I obviously didn't understand the intricacies of the writing, nor could I really explain why I liked it, but I just knew that I did. I went back and read Fever Pitch, a book about football, and I even loved that. It was About A Boy, my first literary hardback, that cemented my love for him though. It just made me feel all these feelings, and I read it over and over. I wanted to live inside it. And as an adult, as someone who has studied the... heck... out of a lot of books in order to analyse writing style, I can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that his books are, in fact, Good Writing.
To honour this, I am going to rank his novels, arbitrarily, into my own special Top 5! Read on...
[I did say novels, which excludes such excellent reads as The Polysyllabic Spree, Fever Pitch and 31 Songs, as well as his short stories and films. If you would like to know how I would rank his films... I'll tell you!
1. High Fidelity
2. About A Boy
3. An Education
4. Fever Pitch, the English One
5 Fever Pitch, the American One (Because I haven't seen it, largely.)]
This is a sci-fi-ish young adult adventure, but not really. It's mostly just a Nick Hornby book, with this one weird bit of time travelling, and a kind-of talking Tony Hawks poster. I did really like this book, but it didn't stay with me much after I read it. The plot is kind of all over the place, and I don't think the resolution is that strong, nor the characters that compelling. This is all relative though, because every page is still alive with brilliant Hornby-isms (such as the afore-mentioned poster, with its often wise, but largely inappropriate quotes from the Tony Hawks autobiography, and the generally unglamorous teen pregnancy vibe).
4. High Fidelity
Basically, I couldn't really decide on a proper top 4, because they're all brilliant, so I have ranked these in order of which I'd most like to read again. This is bottom of the 4, largely because I've read it loads already, and seen the film quite a few times too. It's great, you know it is, with its list obsession, and collecting obsession, and love obsession. I would say that I never really got the love of Barry's character, or for any of the male characters in the book, to be honest, but it is probably one of the funniest and, in the end, is quite romantic. I think he'd write it differently now though, maybe less ponderously? Maybe more ponderously?!
3. About A Boy
This book helped me through my teen years greatly. So much so, that I think I'd find it quite painful to read again. What I do know is that the dual narrative works brilliantly, and Ellie is my second favourite creation of Hornby's, and it's one of those brilliant funny/sad type books that will get you. Every. Time. Yes, anyway, this is, I think, Hornby's superior coming-of-ager, as it features two characters growing up (one a boy and one a man), with hilarious and moving consequences. Just try not to read it thinking about Hugh Grant or the boy from Skins, if you can. You can have Toni Collette though.
2. Juliet, Naked
This is his most recent, and I don't have much more to say than that it's lovely, beautiful, and kind of perfect. If Slam is Hornby's SF YA novel, then Juliet, Naked is his chick-lit novel. The premise is something like this: woman [this is not the only reason that this is chick-lit-like, I am not that kind of man] lives with man obsessed by obscure rockstar, and is dissatisfied by her life with him, through a series of unbelievable events, she conducts an online romance with the very same rockstar and eventually falls in love with him in real life, blah blah blah. But, you know what I'm going to say, the way he does it is just so good! The only reason this doesn't win is that it doesn't have any one stand out, show-stopping character (though the rockstar's son is a cutie). Thoroughly recommend reading this, even though I have slightly spoiled the ending (but not really).
1. A Long Way Down
And here is our winner! Four people meet on top of a roof on New Year's Eve, intending to kill themselves. Hilarious hijinks ensue. Did I mention that one of the characters, Jess, is one of the best literary characters of all time? Well now I have. She's a spiky, chav-ish, lost girl, who hates big words and bickers fantastically with Martin Sharp, a disgraced TV presenter who likes big words. This book revived my love for Hornby after, erm, How To Be Good, and it did so big time. You'd think a book that's split between four completely different narrators would get confusing, or feel jumpy, but it never does. It's just brilliant. And funny. And it asks all kind of deep questions, if you like that sort of thing. Also, it features the only Hornby music reference I have ever got, which makes me like it even more.