Will Lightman is a Peter Pan for the 1990s. At 36, the terminally hip North Londoner is unmarried, hyper-concerned with his coolness quotient, and blithely living off his father’s novelty-song royalties. Will sees himself as entirely lacking in hidden depths–and he’s proud of it! The only trouble is, his friends are succumbing to responsibilities and children, and he’s increasingly left out in the cold. How can someone brilliantly equipped for meaningless relationships ensure that he’ll continue to meet beautiful Julie Christie-like women and ensure that they’ll throw him over before things get too profound? A brief encounter with a single mother sets Will off on his new career, that of “serial nice guy.” As far as he’s concerned–and remember, concern isn’t his strong suit–he’s the perfect catch for the young mother on the go. After an interlude of sexual bliss, she’ll realize that her child isn’t ready for a man in their life and Will can ride off into the Highgate sunset, where more damsels apparently await. The only catch is that the best way to meet these women is at single-parent get-togethers. In one of Nick Hornby’s many hilarious (and embarrassing) scenes, Will falls into some serious misrepresentation at SPAT (“Single Parents–Alone Together”), passing himself off as a bereft single dad: “There was, he thought, an emotional truth here somewhere, and he could see now that his role-playing had a previously unsuspected artistic element to it. He was acting, yes, but in the noblest, most profound sense of the word.”
What interferes with Will’s career arc, of course, is reality–in the shape of a 12-year-old boy who is in many ways his polar opposite. For Marcus, cool isn’t even a possibility, let alone an issue. For starters, he’s a victim at his new school. Things at home are pretty awful, too, since his musical therapist mother seems increasingly in need of therapy herself. All Marcus can do is cobble together information with a mixture of incomprehension, innocence, self-blame, and unfettered clear sight. As fans of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity already know, Hornby’s insight into laddishness magically combines the serious and the hilarious. About a Boy continues his singular examination of masculine wish-fulfillment and fear. This time, though, the author lets women and children onto the playing field, forcing his feckless hero to leap over an entirely new–and entirely welcome–set of emotional hurdles.
Will trades his lack of enthusiasm toward children for a date with a truly beautiful woman and single mother in a comic, incisive novel about modern romance by the author of the international best-seller High Fidelity.
How cool is 36-year-old Will Lightman? Sub-zero, according to the questionnaire in his favorite men’s magazine. Not only does he own more than five hip-hop albums (five points), he’s also slept with a woman he didn’t know very well within the last three months (another five points). Targeting single mothers, he joins a single parents’ group under false pretenses and is soon drawn into the lives of depressed Fiona and her bright 12-year-old son, Marcus. Suddenly, his life is messy and complicated, and he’s horrified when he realizes that he’s now hanging with the type of people who gather around the piano to sincerely sing songs like “Both Sides Now” with their eyes closed. This is Hornby’s second novel (following High Fidelity, 1995), and it’s obvious he has an uncanny ability for homing in on wholly contemporary, often serious topics and serving them up in truly hilarious fashion. His skillful analysis of hipster angst has obviously struck a chord–this novel has been sold to filmmakers for more than $3 million. Joanne Wilkinson
The originality and fun spilling over in Hornby’s acclaimed debut, High Fidelity (1995), run deep and strong through this second novel, as a playboy pretends he’s a single dad so he can date single moms, but finds his fantasies warped by the real needs of an unusual 12-year-old boy. Set for life in London with royalties from a sappy Christmas song his father wrote, Will Lightman does nothing all day except be cool–something he does extremely well. And he chases women, with intermittent success. When chance throws a beautiful mom his way, he makes the most of the opportunity, even though she dumps him because she thinks he’s ready for commitment and she isn’t. No matter: He joins a single parents’ group, inventing a toddler named Ned, and is well on the way to another conquest when frizzy-haired loner Marcus and his depressive hippie mother Fiona intervene. They all meet on the day Fiona tries to kill herself, and while Will’s really just a friendly bystander, Marcus, in desperation, seizes on him as the solution to their problems. He follows Will to see where he lives, and, after quickly seeing through the toddler ruse, takes to barging in on his “friend” nearly every day after school. While hardly in agreement with this turn of events, Will is still enough of a boy himself to recognize that the lad needs a hand, and finds himself caring enough to buy Marcus cool sneakers, which are promptly stolen by the gang at school who harass Marcus daily. But Will provides the key that gives Marcus a first girlfriend, and then is repaid in kind when he meets another beautiful mom, falls in love, and persuades Marcus to act as his son to keep her from getting away. Far more than just boys will be boys, this has the right mix of hilarity and irrepressible characters to attract a wide audience: an upbeat, unqualified success. (First serial to the New Yorker; Book-of-the-Month Club featured alternate selection; author tour) — Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
…a pleasurable book … both subtle and provocative but put together with a skill that makes it seem simpler than it is. It is, in fact, easier to read than either to forget or convey. — The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Richard Eder
About a Boy meets the essential test of a good novel: you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens. Mr Hornby also writes acutely and amusingly about middle-class, urban England…. Mr Hornby is also sentimental, can be trite and likes to spell out the moral of the story. — The Economist
Mr. Hornby’s trademark wit, breezy writing and his characters’ wry internal dialogues keep the reader cheerfully flipping pages. But once it ends, this TV sitcom-like tale … doesn’t haunt the reader with images or observations on human nature the way the best novels do. It just evaporates from memory. — The Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bukowski
With any luck, we’ll soon have lots of fab and funny writers emulating Nick Hornby, and his kind of accomplishment won’t seem quite so foreign. — The New York Times Book Review, Hal Espen
[I]f we can see the novel’s conclusion coming far off down the pike, Hornby’s sharp observations and his quirky comedic instincts ensure that our journey there is entertaining, funny–and occasionally affecting. — The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani