Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down and Thoughts on Suicide


Not a lot of people talk about it, which makes the whole topic almost taboo. But it does exist. As for the reasons why some people take their own lives, well, we’ll never really know, won’t we? After all, the dead can’t talk.

I’ve just finished reading Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. It took me months to finish it, which isn’t really normal for me because a book only last two to four days on my hands, and it’s not really because A Long Way Down isn’t a good read. It’s good but not too good to make me not want to put it down.

A Long Way Down is about four almost-suicides – a tired mother, a disgraced former morning show host, a failed musician and a raging teen-aged girl. All four characters meet each other up in the roof of Topper’s  House, a popular suicide spot in London, in New Year’s eve. Not one of them fling themselves from the building that night, instead the foursome comically form an unofficial group with the aim of watching out for each other until the time they could fully decide to top themselves over.

The book ends with no one committing suicide.

Hornby wrote this novel meaning for it to be funny but it did not have that effect on me. I didn’t relate to any of the characters. I found Jess especially obnoxious. All four of them – Jess, JJ, Martin and (even) Maureen – did things that made me cringe at best.

But if there’s one thing I could identify with it’s being all fucked up.

I know that’s no reason to take your own life. Well, not enough at least. But, see, when someone’s all fucked up he losses hope and clarity, and that’s a deadly combination.

I’ve always thought suicide is a selfish thing. It’s an easy way out. An escape latch for the weak. I’ve always believed in facing whatever fucking trouble you have, not leaving it and the world all together. Alright, you leave this messy world. How about the people who love you? You’ll leave them, too? You’ll leave them with another disjointed piece that is yourself weighing on their shoulders?

Suicide is unfair, and selfish, and cowardly.

That’s how I thought of it then, before I contemplated crossing over the other side myself.

Obviously, I didn’t push it. I thought about the people I’ll have to leave behind. I don’t want them to carry on with their lives with me weighing them down. And I also don’t know if I could do it. Well, I guess you can answer that. I can’t do it, that’s why I’m still here.

“There are lots and lots of factors that push people over the edge; none of these factors are likely to make you feel anything but fucking miserable.” (Martin)

People have a myriad of reasons for everything. They have thousands more on why they want to kill themselves. Try as we may, whatever understanding we can conjure up in our heads would never be enough to explain to ourselves why one person still decided to take his own life. People snap, and everything can go down hill from there.

“Most people get suicide, I guess; most people, even if it’s hidden deep down inside somewhere, can remember a time in their lives when they thought about whether they really wanted to wake up the next day. Wanting to die seems like it might be part of being alive.” (JJ)

Life’s a bitch. I can no longer count how many times I’ve said that. Life’s a bitch and she will drag you down if you let her. So you fight against it, but still there are those days when you wake up tired knowing what’s in store for you, and you just want it to stop. But you know it won’t stop not unless you make it, and then you continue putting aside all other thoughts at the back of your head until you feel like you’ve left it behind, until you start feeling better about yourself and everything else. Until life returns to you.

That was how it has been for me. This is also why I didn’t really find the novel funny because it sort of touched a sore spot.

People need people. More often than not, people who want to commit suicide just need other people to stop them, other people to make them see reason. Maureen says it best, and I would end this post with something she said in the book.

“But there’s another answer, too, isn’t there? And the other answer is, No, of course I don’t, you fool. Please stop me. Please help me. Please make me into the kind of person who wants to live, the kind of person who has a bit missing, maybe. The kind of person who would be able to say, I am entitled to something more than this. Not much more, just something that would have been enough. Instead of not quite enough. Because that’s why I was up there – there wasn’t quite enough to stop me.” (Maureen)

Originally posted on The Bright-Eyed Wanderer 13 May 2013