London-based writer Nick Hornby’s second novel, About A Boy, divides its time between two male misfits: Will, a 36-year-old bachelor, and Marcus, an eccentric, introverted, bullied 12-year-old. Never having to work thanks to the royalties from his father’s Christmas novelty-song hit, Will has a lot of time on his hands.
Most of this is spent smoking pot, following what the rest of the world calls football, listening to albums, and looking for female companionship, preferably of the short-lived variety. After a pleasant relationship with a single mother ends, Will decides to pose as a single parent himself to attract more of the same. This somewhat screwball premise is downplayed, however, once a single-parents’ picnic—coupled with Marcus’ mother’s suicide attempt—brings the two protagonists together, initiating a difficult friendship. Both Hornby’s terrific last novel, High Fidelity, and Fever Pitch, the author’s account of his lifelong obsession with football, displayed a gift for convincingly and humorously capturing certain aspects of the pop-culture-immersed, not-bad-but-selfish, contemporary male psyche.
About A Boy continues to showcase this talent, even expanding it in some interesting new directions. The title comes from Patti Smith’s elegy for Kurt Cobain, whose suicide plays a crucial role in the novel, but it could just as easily refer to either Marcus or Will, both of whom spend the novel growing up, largely without realizing it. Hornby finds a nice balance between humor and pathos, dealing sensitively with Marcus and his mother’s problems without spoiling the tone of his largely comic novel. Like High Fidelity, About A Boy is as consistently fun to read as it is substantial, a highly entertaining, unforgettable book.