About a Boy by Nick Hornby

March 27, 2013

about a boy Plot summary (from the publisher): Will Freeman may have discovered the key to dating success: If the simple fact that they were single mothers meant that gorgeous women—-women who would not ordinarily look twice at Will—-might not only be willing, but enthusiastic about dating him, then he was really onto something. Single mothers—bright, attractive, available women—thousands of them, were all over London. He just had to find them.

SPAT: Single Parents—Alone Together. It was a brilliant plan. And Will wasn’t going to let the fact that he didn’t have a child himself hold him back. A fictional two-year-old named Ned wouldn’t be the first thing he’d invented. And it seems to go quite well at first, until he meets an actual twelve-year-old named Marcus, who is more than Will bargained for…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • This was my first Nick Hornby novel, and I was very impressed by the writing. I especially enjoyed the witty little asides that his characters (particularly Will) were always tossing out. The way Hornby handled their internal dialogue made the characters more interesting than they were on the surface.
  • I’m glad that Will and Marcus’ mom didn’t end up together (wasn’t that the route chosen by the filmmakers?). They were far too much of a mismatch and that kind of ending just screams “Hollywood”. Having Will and Marcus remain in each other’s lives while Will pursued a different woman was a sensible and believable choice.
  • It was refreshing to come across a character who did nothing with his life and was completely unapologetic about it. Will had zero ambition, didn’t need any, and didn’t care what other people thought about his lifestyle (for the most part). He was the kind of guy who bought North Face jackets and other trendy gear not because he was into outdoor sports or anything, but just for the hell of it. That’s not how I would want to live, nor would I be proud if a child of mine turned out like that. But in a novel? Sure, why not.

Disliked:

  • I thought the Kurt Cobain stuff was a bit over the top — and this is coming from a former Nirvana fan. The near-constant references to Cobain (particularly in the latter half) not only dates the book, but also turned the Marcus-Ellie friendship into a boring mess.
  • Speaking of boring, the author lost his way somewhere along the line and never quite found the right track again. The story starts out wonderfully, and I couldn’t wait to read about Will, Marcus, and their very odd relationship. But then the lack of a real plot became very apparent and problematic, making long stretches of the book far duller than they should have been.
  • I wasn’t too keen on the apparent message Hornby seemed to be sending about conformity and fitting in. He basically (through Will) says that Marcus has to fall in line and become another sheep/slave to fashion trends if he wants to make it through school without being bullied. What a depressing and cynical outlook.

Rating:

While the main storyline in About a Boy fizzled out well before the end, I still managed to enjoy the book (at least somewhat) due to Hornby’s writing style. And since I’ve heard that this isn’t even anywhere close to his best work, I’m certainly interested in giving someone else a try. As for About a Boy, the plot goes adrift at about the midway point and turns never quite follows through on its initial promise. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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