Hornby is so readable. Also plenty of music in jokes for people born in the 50s or 60s. I donít relate to the multiple partners (over time) aspect, although I suppose many of his readers would. But I DO relate to the anatomy of a dying relationship - much of what he wrote reminded me of things I went through with C. - like the ugly mess that you may have decided to break up, but there are still all these ties. And even though you donít want to get back together, this pathetic part of you wants them to feel like itís still costing them something not to be with you.
Thereís also the thing that I (and a thousand others) have articulated before about the loss of magic once you move in with someone: before every meeting was an exciting assignation - now theyíre just there because theyíre not somewhere else. Indeed, somewhere else is where thereís some preparations made. It still seems a shame to me that nakedness can become so casual and non-sexual, but to make a big deal of it would be too inconvenient and after a while, farcical.
The central characterís deep closing insight (although there are insights right along the journey. Hornby comes across as someone able to be honest with himself, even some ugly bits, but he still basically likes himself, so it doesnít turn into a jaded piece) is talking about the long-term partner heís finally decided he wants to marry:
I know whatís wrong with Laura. Whatís wrong with Laura is Iíll never see her for the first or second or third time again. Iíll never spend two or three days in a sweat trying to remember what she looks like, never again will I get to a pub half an hour early to meet her, staring at the same article in a magazine and looking at my watch every thirty seconds, never again will thinking about her set something off in me like ĎLetís get it oní sets something off in me.
Iím sure at times I have unconscious resentment demanding novelty from a long term relationship. Yet novelty is so pathetic compared to commitment - as Hornby continues:
And sure, I love her and like her and have good conversations, nice sex and intense rows with her, and she looks after me and worries about me ...., but what does that all count for, when someone with bare arms, a nice smile and a pair of Doc Martins comes into the shop and says she wants to interview me? Nothing, thatís what, but maybe it should count for a bit more.
The problem isnít as deep for me. I was brought up to believe in the duty of faithfulness, so even when we had rough patches, or someone attractive might have shown an interest in me after Iíd been married, infidelity was never even a vague option. I did/do have to deal with resentment at times, ďThis relationship doesnít seem to be doing anything for either of us, why are we still together?Ē, but that just got put in the category like other bits of my faith that donít always make sense. Nice that this one in some ways is a matter of maturity - I can see the value in it later, and didnít have to go through the sort of grief Hornby, presumably, has given and received to get to a similar point of valuing fidelity over always keeping the door open for a better option.
In How Far Can You Go, Lodge goes further by describing a guy whoís been married for twenty years acting on an infatuation with a secretary. Far from the usual hollywood Ďa love too deep to be denied, a forbidden loveí as being grand and passionate, Lodge shows how stupidly out of sync the indescretion is with the whole rest of his life Ė he hasnít begun to think about the implications, of what this could cost him, and how little in effect itís really offering. Likewise the girl doesnít really know what to do with him now.
Earlier in the book Laura remonstrates with Rob (1st person narrator) about how, of course, in trying to always keep doors open heís actually closing at least as many more.
Thereís some other interesting stuff touching on class, and even more basic proofs that just because someone doesnít know the difference between Miles Davis and Acker Bilk (an example from my own experience, not Hornbyís) they still may be worth talking to. I picked this up during my year touring with a band of players I didnít choose, but some people (especially in this society that lets you string out your teenage lifestyle and, in some cases, ignorance, well into your thirties) may spend decades in a proudly pretentious sub-culture. I had to give up obsessions like Jazz fusion a while ago, but I can relate. Hornby may still be collecting hundreds of CDs and faithfully worshipping at the church of Arsenal. Still, Iím even reviewing all the books I read - obsessive?
And, dammit, it is a very satisfying book. With his wit, honesty and readability Hornby could, like so many others, have got by without much of a plot. But plotwise this book hinges on a funeral, which, true to life, comes out of the blue. Weíre just cruising along in this generally feel good novel (although it does touch on some ugly stuff, and in his Ďfour awful things Iíve doneí slap you right in the face), and experiencing most of the big emotional things in past tense detachment. Plotwise we may vaguely expect Rob to come to terms with Lauraís departure and to maybe hook up with someone else. Then Lauraís dad dies, somehow we get this full on climactic scene where Robís at the funeral, and Laura ends up saying to him, ďIím too tired not to go out with you.Ē Later she explains:
I thought that we were bound by one simple little cord, our relationship, and if I cut it, then that would be that. So I cut it, but that wasnít that. There wasnít just one cord, but hundreds, thousands, everywhere I turned ... and then on the day of the funeral, it was me that wanted you to be there, not my mum. I mean, she was quite pleased, I think, but it never occurred to me to ask Ray, and thatís when I felt tired. I wasnít prepared to do all that work. It wasnít worth it, just to be shot of you.Ē
Hornby managed to throw this into a really powerful context.
The sub-plot about Rob taking up DJing again is a bit cheesy, but everyone wants a happy ending.
Strewth, quite a diarising type review - but thatís one of the things I enjoy about Hornby - he relates to me. Whereas when I leant a About a Boy to nearing retirement A.† (whoís given me Stone Diaries and The Idea of Perfection), she couldnít relate - much as I couldnít to these undeniably well written books. Maybe itís a generational thing: not just the pop-culture references, but the whole Ďvibeí, man, that two similarly aged people may unconsciously share.