Book: About a boy - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: About a boy
Wednesday, 22 June 2005 at 03:34 pm
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Author: Nick Hornby

Details: (c) Nick Hornby 1998; Pub Penguin Books 2002; ISBN 0-141-00733-8

Verdict: About a boy is rather superficial but there's some quite nice characterization.

Reasons for reading it: I felt I should probably read the archetypal lad lit novel at some point, just as a zeitgeist thing. And I needed something extremely unchallenging for the train journey from Dundee since I'd had no sleep the night before. Once I ran out of About a boy I found myself too tired to cope with anything else, so I ended up very bored for the rest of the journey!

How it came into my hands: Dundee charity shops.

About a Boy has spawned a genre and it does have most of the faults of the genre. The hero, Will, is short of redeeming features even though he's drawn very sympathetically. Another feature which in my limited exposure seems to be typical is that he ends up with a woman far too good for him; I can't think of many equivalents in novels marketed at women, except possibly Bridget Jones. Still, he is very nicely drawn and I did feel engaged with him despite his very annoying traits.

Despite the fact that Will as the viewpoint character is utterly insensitive and self-absorbed, AaB is intensely sentimental. The success of the novel on an emotional level is rather patchy; some of it I did find moving, whereas some is just melodramatic and too blatant to be convincing. The contrast between the genuine hardship of Marcus and Fiona with Will's callousness about other people's problems and whining about his own trivial ones does work rather well on the whole.

I didn't find AaB particularly amusing; I could see where it was trying to be funny, but the humour is too unkind to appeal to me. This does mean there's less dilution of the serious / sentimental parts of the book for me. It's also rather too self-consciously topical, which is annoying anyway and makes the book dated by now.

AaB has a surprisingly heavy-handed moral tone. The "message" seems to be that people need a network of friends and that it's a mistake to invest everything emotionally into a romantic relationship. That's an angle I rather like and AaB makes a rather nice job of demonstrating this, though it does sometimes veer into being directly preachy; it's not necessary to put an explanation of this conclusion into Marcus' actual voice.

However, the appeal of this conclusion is really spoilt by the other part of the message, which is basically "conform – consume – obey". I was really annoyed by the way Marcus is convinced to give up thinking for himself and start behaving like a typical teenager, completely absorbed by the herd mentality of following the fashions and rejecting any intellectual or mature approaches. The worst is that this is treated as a happy ending for him. Ugh.

This is particularly a pity as Marcus' and Ellie's experiences of being unpopular teenagers are portrayed really poignantly. Although AaB is partially mocking them, they are extremely well characterized and in many ways more engaging than Will himself. Having them grow into friendship and start to develop as people is lovely, and exceedingly well done. But the way they turn into sheeple so they will be more accepted by their moronic classmates is just depressing.


Moooood: okayokay
Tuuuuune: Fauré: Les roses d'Isaphan
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From:quizcustodet
Date:July 6th, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
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Just a slight quibble - I'd say that the archetypal lad lit book would be Fever Pitch by the same author, with High Fidelity running close behind.

I don't entirely agree with you about the people -> sheeple transformation. I don't recall Ellie ceasing her rebellion during the book. Marcus clearly does become more of a typical teenager, but I don't think that Hornby is saying that he _shouldn't_ have been mature, etc, but rather that Marcus _didn't want to be_. He was being forced into it by his mother's conscious decisions and unconscious needs.

Basically, I think the point that Hornby is making is that non-conformism is a choice, and being forced into non-conformism because you have no other option (as Marcus is before Will steps in) is just as bad as being forced into conformism by peer pressure.
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From:livredor
Date:July 9th, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 04:18 pm (livredor's time)
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I'd say that the archetypal lad lit book would be Fever Pitch by the same author, with High Fidelity running close behind.
I think you're actually probably right; I hadn't really separated the Hornby books in my head, but yeah, those two are probably more the classics of the genre than About a boy.

I don't think that Hornby is saying that he _shouldn't_ have been mature, etc, but rather that Marcus _didn't want to be_. He was being forced into it by his mother's conscious decisions and unconscious needs.
That's a very interesting point, and one I hadn't thought of. I guess I personally prefer adults over teenagers, and I was rather projecting that onto Marcus. I did think it was rather sad that Marcus seems to relinquish his thoughtful, compassionate approach in favour of just blending in so he doesn't get bullied. It's good that he doesn't get bullied, but to me it's a pity, rather than a cause for rejoicing, that he has to give up what I think are good qualities to achieve this. But his deciding to prefer Nirvana over Joni Mitchell I don't have a problem with at all, there's no reason he should let his tastes be dictated by his mother at that level.

non-conformism is a choice, and being forced into non-conformism because you have no other option (as Marcus is before Will steps in) is just as bad as being forced into conformism by peer pressure.
Very fair point. And it's true that the book does mention him taking ethical stands on things like vegetarianism, just because his mother insists on it rather than because it's a personal choice. Thanks for that insight, it really does change the way I view the book.
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From:quizcustodet
Date:July 9th, 2005 11:24 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
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I did think it was rather sad that Marcus seems to relinquish his thoughtful, compassionate approach in favour of just blending in so he doesn't get bullied.

Again, this isn't quite fair. To a large extent what stopped him being bullied was being friends with Ellie, as she'd stomp anyone who got to him. I think that that friendship was largely the result of his positive qualities - I got the impression that the things he was really abandoning were the singing out loud (which was odd, but I don't think is intrinsically positive; indeed, in a lesson it's actually disruptive and could easily be negative) and having the clothes/causes/musical tastes of his mother. It's been a few months since I've read it, but I don't remember much that indicated him losing the good aspects of his personality. The main focus for compassion was his mother, and apparently her heart-to-heart with Will helped her to regain some mental stability, and thus require less outward concern.

I'm glad I could help put the book in a different light, because I really liked it - more than High Fidelity, probably because my ignorance of recent music meant at least half the jokes in the latter went straight over my head!
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