“About A Boy,” the follow-up to Nick Hornby’s debut pop culture romp “High Fidelity,” is a surprisingly more entertaining and engaging tale than his first. Nothing much has changed in terms of tone and character except that we reenter the world of British slackers from a slightly different angle. In fact the seed idea for the protagonist in “About A Boy” was subtly explored in “High Fidelity.”
The book tells the story of Will Freeman, a slacker with a trust fund just large enough to allow him to get by without working. He lives, quite literally, off of the royalties of a cheesy Santa Xmas song, which ironically and invariably makes his life miserable around the holidays. Although he is articulate and well mannered, what Will does best is hang out, stay in touch with what’s cool, and remain as comfortably distanced from depression and responsibility as possible.
After an encouraging short-term relationship with a divorcee, where the sex and mellow approach to commitment is surprising refreshing to him, he reorients himself away from younger one night stands and more towards older more experienced single mothers. Having caught the bug for this wiser, more experienced woman, he comes up with a plan to attend a single parenting group meeting, invent a son and an ex-wife and romp merrily though a series of fun and interesting relationships. Of course nothing in life is ever quite as easy as it seems which leaves Hornby with the perfect structure through which to tell “About A Boy.”
The single parent lie that he is living eventually triggers a relationship with a nerdy twelve-year-old boy named Marcus. The story focuses primarily around Will’s teaching Marcus to be cooler, and Marcus forcing Will to accept and experience much of the responsibility that has been keeping him from adulthood.
Filled with some wonderful character constructions, Hornby is able to create a world filled with socially awkward, but lovingly genuine people.
Although the protagonist fashions himself as a pop culture zealot, Hornby, (I assume in an effort to broaden his audience) uses a fairly obvious and not all that “in-the-know” set of cultural staples upon which to frame Will’s “hip” sensibility. Putting the all of the Nirvana and Kurt Cobain influences aside, Hornby has created a character with loads of depth. You begin to see the world through Will’s eyes, eyes torn between compassion and decency and lethargy and sloth. It would be hard to write anything more readable and entertaining than “About A Boy,” and you would be dredging for faults if you could poke too many holes in the story, premise or characters. Although it may not be Tolstoy, it never tries to be anything more than what it is. Hornby has a real ear for the way people speak and think, and is able to put all those words and thoughts into the mouths and minds of truly memorable characters.