We gave it an A-
A follow-up to High Fidelity, British writer Hornby’s superb 1996 novel about pop-music obsession, About A Boy (the film rights to which have reportedly been sold for $3 million) is an acerbic, emotionally richer yet no less funny tale. Will (36, single, lonely, in search of a girlfriend and a life) meets Marcus (12, lonely, in search of happiness for himself and his suicidal mother). At first, befriending Marcus is merely an attempt to assuage a guilty conscience brought about by a life of leisure. The fellows form an odd-duck match, united by their alienation — one a selfish, irresponsible man whose despair takes the form of boredom (”No problem was his problem”), the other an angry, confused, intelligent boy mocked by his contemporaries and misunderstood as sullen and stupid by adults.
As in Hornby’s previous novel, About A Boy is distinguished by straightforward storytelling, a gratifying lack of irony, and an unembarrassed fondness for low comedy. An early set piece, in which childless, wily Will infiltrates a meeting of the support group SPAT (”Single Parents — Alone Together”) in order to meet available women, is shrewdly hilarious. (As a 40-year-old comic novelist, Hornby is a throwback, influenced more by Kingsley Amis than Martin.)
Although Marcus’ mother initially thinks that Will is fiddling with her son, the friendship grows, healthily. They find common ground in the suicide of Kurt Cobain, whose music they (and Hornby) are drawn to for its vibrant, and ultimately tragic, sincerity. Pals who form a touching father-son relationship without ever becoming father and son, Will and Marcus ultimately find the answer to the single question that presses down on both of them: As Will says, ”You could shut life out. If you didn’t answer the door to it, how was it going to get in?”