Thursday, July 07, 2005

"All I want is a God damned waldorf salad!"

On the surface it would seem that choosing Hornby's A Long Way Down to get out of the previously mentioned reading funk developed out of Ha Jin's good but depressing works was quite silly. The book is about four folks whose lives have lead them to the top of a well-known suicide spot in Hornby's London to ostensibly end their lives on New Year's Eve. The narration (which is the troublesome key to this novel) is carried on through these four narrators and they take you through not only what lead them to this ultimate moment, but also through the aftermath of coming down--not killing themselves.

The strength of the novel is that it allows its narrators to explore what lead them to the moment of desperation in a real, unmasked fashion. At first, however, the narration seems forced in that the author is so intent on making sure that you know these are different people that he over-nuances the language. For example, when JJ, the sole American narrator takes over the story, Hornby throws as many Americanisms as he can and the whole thing comes across as fake. This is much like watching a British TV show and a British actor comes on playing an American*: the flat accent is one thing, but the over-loudness, predominance of saying "god damn!"--which Hornby doesn't do, by the way--and other uses of specific Americanisms just grate on the nerves. (I am sure it is much like a British person must think of American actors faking British accents.)

That over-done Americanism is an early slip, however, and the rest of the narration smoothes out and it is easy to ignore any problems in narration. However, one must admire Hornby's choice of hard people to narrate: a vacuous TV personality who has destroyed his life through sexual thrill-seeking; a woman forced to be a shut-in because of her completely disabled son; a "confused" 18-year-old girl who acts erratically and seems to want nothing but ill for others; and a lost American musician who faces a life of not having success in his career (or life.) These aren't exactly the easiest characters to let take over a narration, and at times I don't think Hornby gets it, although he tries like hell to get it right. I would say it is mostly successful, but like his American accent, holes do exist in each of the narrator's masks, and one can see Hornby's face behind it.

*A notable example of a British actor's rendition of an American can be seen in the episode of Fawlty Towers "Waldorf Salad" where a brash American comes to stay in Basil Fawlty's craptastic hotel. Although the actor is Canadian, he still plays his American in a most British fashion.

1 comment:

  1. I love that episode. I love when Basil tries to get the term, kick your ass, right. Bust your butt, whack your bottom, are those some?