18/09/2008

About a Boy (by Nick Hornby)

I'd only vaguely heard of Nick Hornby, who has written a couple of other novels as well as this one. But I had heard of the film version of 'About a Boy', which I'd like to see some day. So when I saw a paperback version of the book in a thrift shop, I bought it, and have just finished reading it.

'About a boy' is, indeed, about a boy. Twelve-year-old Marcus. He's a bit of a geek, with little awareness of fashion or pop music, or any of the other things that most boys his age are into. That was fine in his old school, but he and his mum have just moved to London, and Marcus is going to a large comprehensive where bullies target the uncool and geeky.

Marcus's mother isn't much help - she's a free-thinking vegetarian, who wants Marcus to be individualistic and honest. Unfortunately, although she doesn't mean to, she manages to coerce him into her way of thinking all the time. So he's never worn trainers, or been to MacDonalds, or listened to grunge music. Marcus is really a very likeable boy, very mature for his age. But the school has no way of dealing with the bullies other than to advise avoidance, and Marcus knows that his mother could not want to educate him at home, because she went out to work.

The book is not just about a boy, though. It's also about a man. Will is thirty-something, and a man of leisure. His father earned millions by writing a trite Christmas song that gives Will immense royalties, even decades later. He fills his days by reading, and watching television, and going to see friends, and doing a bit of housework.

He's thought about having a job, or doing some voluntary work, but it would all require effort... so he prefers life as a late 20th century version of Bertie Wooster. He likes to have a girlfriend, but doesn't want to get serious with any of them. At the start of the book he decides that some of the nicest women are single mothers... so he invents an imaginary son, two-year-old Ned, in order that he can join a single parents' group.

It's all a little surreal, and yet the characters really come alive. The chapters alternate Will's and Marcus's point of view, written from a third person perspective. I've seen reviews of the film suggesting that Will is a child in a man's body, and Marcus a man in a child's body... but it's not really that dramatic. Will does need to learn to be a bit more responsible and think about the future, and Marcus, if he's to survive at school, needs to learn to be a bit cooler and relax more.

Inevitably they meet, and become friendly in a strange kind of way, after a dramatic and nearly tragic event that draws Will into Marcus's family. And gradually, Will shows helps Marcus to think a bit more like the average twelve-year-old, while Marcus helps Will to think a bit more about life, and being an adult.

The writing style is great - fast-paced, a little sardonic, and with some brilliant touches of humour that made me chuckle aloud once or twice. The storyline is good too, with some thought-provoking themes about honesty and the nature of friendship.

There was a fair amount of bad language, but it was mostly used as expletives - albeit in a slightly repetitive way at times - and nowhere near as much as some other books I've read. I can only assume that the language must have been cleaned up for the film, as the rating is only 12.

All in all I enjoyed 'About a Boy' and am looking forward to seeing the movie at some point. Recommended, if you don't mind four-letter words scattered throughout the conversations.

{Note: I saw the film about nine months later, and reviewed the DVD of 'About a Boy' on my DVD review blog}

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 18th September 2008

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

I saw the film on a plane trip to Rome (via Dubai) a few years ago, interrupted by meals etc., and missed the beginning. Then managed to catch the beginning on the way back. In spite of its being so disjointed, I found it quite enjoyable.