New Year’s Eve, London, Toppers’ Block, named for the number of people who commit suicide by jumping off the roof. Martin, a disgraced TV presenter, has decided to end his life. He is ready for the job—he has brought a stepladder and wire cutters to get through the protective netting. He sits on the ledge, smoking and contemplating his life. Maureen, a single mother with an adult disabled son who feels she cannot go on, has also decided to end it all. She goes up to the rooftop only to find Martin sitting on the ledge smoking. She waits politely for him to get on with it, until finally having run out of patience, she asks if he’ll be long. Martin, not expecting visitors and convinced that Maureen is trying to kill him, freaks out. Then Jess, a teenage daughter of a Labour minister, joins them, and Martin tries to stop her jumping by wrestling her to the ground. So far, their plans of suicide aren’t going too well. Then a polite cough announces JJ, an American: “Any of you guys order a pizza?”
The four would-be suicides all settle down to pizzas, and decide to give it another half-hour. They start (some of them reluctantly) to share their reasons for wanting to die. And so begins an unlikely friendship between four people who do not have anything in common with each other except the desire to kill themselves. They resolve to help each other survive, and the book follows them through their attempts at living and dying.
The four characters take turns at narrating, and each voice is distinctive. Martin is full of his own importance, which is what makes his fall from grace unbearable. Maureen is self-effacing, devoted to her son but unable emotionally to care from him any more. Jess is foul-mouthed, angry teenager. And JJ is a musician and a voracious reader. Nick Hornby has a light touch and there’s plenty of dark humour, but the problems are real. As the stories of each character take shape, the book becomes darker and more poignant.
I enjoy Nick Hornby’s writing and the way he uses comedy to look at the frustrations that we all go through. Like life, it’s funny and sad at the same time.