Dead Duck Day; ‘About A Boy’ by Nick Hornby

No man is an island, or woman for that matter. A lot of us try, but eventually you need or want to build a life with someone (mostly so you stop talking to yourself) and expand your island into a country or continent; depending on how virile you are. I quite enjoy island life; it is a lot easier to look after yourself than other people. Making mistakes in your own life, that is fine, you are the only person you have harmed. Let another person in and hurt them, the guilt is immense. I would be happy as a sort-of-island, with one of those narrow connections to land, occasionally cut off but still equipped with the possibility of conversation.

It was this ridiculous attitude that lead me to About a Boy by Nick Hornby. Having had the misfortune of seeing the film (I can’t get those hours of my life back) reading the book never seemed that worthwhile. I mean really, why did the film include a talent contest? So I felt considerable amount of relief as I realised the film appeared to have completely missed the point.

When you’re 36, going on 18, life is about being hip, being cool, and embracing all that Mothercare has to offer … Will is thirty-six but acts like a teenager. He reads the right magazines, goes to the right clubs and knows which trainers to wear. He’s also discovered a great way to score with women – at single parents’ groups, full of available (and grateful) mothers, all waiting for Mr Nice Guy. That’s where he meets Marcus, the oldest twelve-year-old in the world. Marcus is a bit strange: he listens to Joni Mitchell and Mozart, he looks after his Mum and he’s never even owned a pair of trainers. Perhaps if Will can teach Marcus how to be a kid, Marcus can help Will grow up – and they can both start to act their age …Synopsis from Penguin.co.uk

Beautifully written; Will and Marcus’s transition from childhood into adulthood felt completely natural and wonderfully humorous. Hornby took the banality of everyday life and turned it into brilliant fiction, re-telling life’s daily trails in a way that makes you go, ‘yes, life is like this!’. Fiction is often differently paced or far-fetched; as escapism should be. However, adding a fraction of realism to a story often adds to the reader’s ability to connect to a character and their journey. About a Boy is compelling without needing an exaggerated culmination of events. Even Fiona’s attempted suicide was handled realistically. We (the English) have been known to dust ourselves off, repress the problem and carry on when upsetting or damaging events occur. Hornby scrutinises our habits, leaving us with gritty and significant cultural observations.

Having found the film as funny as a motionless brick, it was a joy to discover Hornby has this magical talent of making the most ordinary occasions or conversations witty. I enjoyed the subtle amusement About a Boy brought me, and I was routing for Will and Marcus’s lives to improve; well, mostly. Marcus’s friendships with both Will and Ellie were magnificent; Hornby’s depiction of a child discovering adult humour was comical and believable. Each awkward human interaction reminded me of how fiction can often portray socialising as seemingly easy, not the minefield it actually is.

Even with all this wonder, it was the ending that pleased me the most. As I expressed earlier, the film’s talent contest ending; Marcus singing for this mum and Will singing for Marcus all felt rather contrived and ‘Hollywood’. About a Boy ends perfectly, concluding at the same pace the entire novel pleasantly meanders. Will and Marcus change as you would expect, almost outgrowing their need for each other, yet you know their journey has been more worthwhile than even they realise. All in all About a Boy was a marvellous read; beautifully unexpected.

Image from Bonjour Madmoiselle.

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