About a Boy, by Nick Hornby: A Delightful Read

by Mira

I LOVED Nick Hornby's writing in About a Boy. It was spot-on for the characters he created. About a Boy is a jewel of a book that reads extremely fast (now THIS is a page-turner!)

Nick Hornby's book About a Boy feels perfectly pitched throughout. This is an achievement on a par with a popular classic such as The Graduate, negative reviews for both notwithstanding.

Here's a quick review of the story, followed in the article by a few notes on Nick Hornby's writing as well.

About a Boy is a book about a 12-year-old kid named Marcus and a 36-year-old guy called Will Lightman. Will is living a life without responsibilities, made possibly by a hit single of his father’s, and enjoying it. He is interested in dating, however, so he ends up going to single-parent meetings, where he eventually falls for a woman. He also gets to meet Marcus, a sensitive kid who’s having a rough time at school, and his hippie musical therapist mother who is living in a bubble, unaware of her kid’s problems. She also has some problems of her own. Will and Marcus become pals. About a Boy is about Marcus’s trials as a preteen, but there’s a lot about Will’s transformation in it as well. The story is told with great humor.

Marcus is a bullied kid with a somber mother. (Nick Hornby's mastery ensures that Marcus's Mom be crisply characterized with only a few deft strokes.) The way Hornby presents Marcus's rationalizations about coping with life is detached and tentative to mimic Marcus's own contained emotional involvement with issues that affect him. This is in some contrast with the way Hornby presents Will's thoughts, which tend to be more urgent and cut-and-dry.

Somehow I kept seeing Hugh Grant as Will, even though at the time of my reading the book I hadn't seen the movie. A different kind of Hugh Grant. One that is not ditzy, but one that is irresponsible in an endearing and somewhat grounded way. Meaning he can pull off lying about having a kid but still fit the mold of someone who has some routines down pat and a way of navigating life which otherwise shies away from the seriously erratic -- but which also protects him from serious relationships and the hard questions and hard work that come with them.

I liked the way the characters sprung to life from restrained comments which never revealed too much in one passage as if for fear some spell might be broken. There was true mastery in having us follow the characters without ever getting ahead of them. One reviewer in The Herald called the book "sadly predictable." I couldn't disagree more. Each reaction was, of course, in tune with a character's make-up but also a nicely calibrated surprise.

The dialogues and narrator's comments were fantastic. They crayoned each character's idiosyncrasies so vividly, almost hyperrealistically, while at the same time with such carefully gauged humor, that they elicited a variety of smiles and laughs -- laughs I tended to keep quiet, as if in collusion with an author who is trying to keep an avuncular straight face.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby (Kindle Edition)

About a Boy
Only $10.99

About a Boy by Nick Hornby (Paperback)

About a Boy (Movie Tie-In)
$10.75  $4.1

All in all, a deceptively simple novel (I tend to find and like many "deceptively simple" books) about a preteen and an older boy who grow more mature together. It makes for a delightful read.

Updated: 12/31/2020, Mira
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Mira on 11/29/2016

I don't think I saw his films. I only knew he was Madonna's husband :)

DerdriuMarriner on 11/29/2016

Mira, Nice review! It's always fun to read a book and see the movie version or vice versa. So many people say that they always prefer the book in such a case.
In another direction, that kind of an interaction makes me think of one of my favorite -- apart from "Snatch" -- Jason Statham films, "Safe." What do you think of Guy Ritchie films?

Mira on 02/19/2013

Wow, I just read the description of A Long Way Down on Amazon and it sounds like a great book for Nick Hornby. I will order it :). Thank you for mentioning it.

Mira on 01/22/2013

You mean people grab them off the shelves? That's good! :)

Tolovaj on 01/22/2013

I haven't read anything by Nick Hornby so far, but I have him on the list for several years now. The reason? His books are really hard to get in our library;)

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