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Off the rails

NICK HORNBY's latest novel takes blokish self- analysis to new territory. But does About A Boy indicate a loss of form? Words: Brian Donaldson

llornbyisation. While it may not have the classical resonance of Kalkaesque or I’roustian. the term has wormed its way into the literary terrain with equal force. New l.addism. New New Laddism. Making novels otit of top live lists. The middle classification of the once beautiful game. It means all this and much less.

With his new novel About A Boy. Nick llornby retreads much of this old stamping ground. Asides from one comedy mishearing and fleeting mentions of llornby‘s beloved Arsenal. the football is ditched for his real theme obsession and the way it spoils normal existence. leading to full- scale abrogation of reponsibility. In I’m-er l’itc/t. relationships are put on hold on Saturday afternoons. Wednesday nights. Thursday mornings or whenever Sky tells tis to get the colours out of the drawer and (iod forbid if a friend‘s wedding clashes with match day. In High Fit/clitv. record collections are a replacement of. rather than a means to. genuine emotion. And in About A Boy. parental duties are pttt on the back burner leaving everyone with a niggling dysfunction. due to an inability to face reality or even just sit down and talk.

Most reviews of llornby's work hold the gargoylian one tip as some North Bank liveryman. speaking the male language to a tee. detailing the full array of flaws. failings and foibles. At the same time. he puts so much of himself into his tales that sometimes the reader becomes a kind of bookworm Samaritan.

In About A Boy. the llornby persona is split into 30- something Will and precocious twelve year old Marcus who stumble into each other's lives. The childless Will joins a lone parents group with the sole purpose of scoring with a single mum. preferably if she has Julie (‘hristie for a doppelganger. Marcus -- with only a suicidal hippy mum and Kurt (‘obain obsessed friend to pull him from the wreckage of school life is simply looking for a father figure. (‘obain acts as a bleached-boy central metaphor. another man who had to get out rather than deal with all that life stuff.


94THELIST )— 16 Apt 1998

Kart {again acts a boy cen‘trai metaphar, another

star: who had t6 get nut rather than dent with at? that his} staii.

Nick llornby: flaws and foibles but not much footie

Ditching the sole narrator to divide himself into the central characters. we see the two sides of llornby he wishes us to believe in. In Will there is the drifter who is after little more than a wish-fulfilment fumble. Responsibility is only sci/ed upon when it is the only option. Marcus is llornby‘s innocent side lost in a dreamworld when reality is too harsh to face. While Marcus is very nearly the most adult character on show. he still comes up with notions of his mother letting him down. Not by being depressed. but for having the bad taste to show her feelings in front of him.

There will undoubtedly be those who are mad About A Boy but until both Nick llornby and his characters start to grow up a bit. his seemineg relentless train of success may be set to come to a crashing halt.

About A Boy by Nick llornby is published on Mon 6 Apr by Gollancz at £15.99.

The write stuff

His novel Body Politic is a dystopian vision of a future Edinburgh, but Paul Johnston is more worried about the rugby.

NAME: Paul Johnston

AGE: 40. It wasn't an enjoyable experience turning 40.

PREVIOUS JOBS: After I finished at Oxford I was a manager in various shipping companies which took me to London, Belgium and Greece. I also worked for a newspaper in Athens for a bit and did a bit of English teaching. I do academic research as well.

ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: My father was a writer. He wrote maritime thrillers in the 605 and 705, so I grew up in that environment. So there was a family background, but I think I became a writer through reading things that I was very impressed by and which expanded my view of life. I lived in Greece for about ten years, which is very good for writing because it's a bit quiet, but it’s not very stimulating. I've definitely found it better being back here, especially for the language. There's a danger when you live on an isolated Greek island of losing touch with all that.

INFLUENCES: Anything to do with Greek writing or writing about Greece is something I've got into in a big way. But that's not such a big influence on Body Politic. More obvious influences are big name crime writers of the past like Chandler or Edinburgh writers like 1 Conan Doyle and Stevenson. Edinburgh has always inspired me as a place, and people like Dickens and Orwell convey that spirit of a place.

AMBITIONS: Body Politic clearly sets up a series, so that's a kind of ambition. But I would like to write other kinds of fiction beyond the crime genre. I'm interested in historical and war fiction, contemporary life and sexual mores. FEARS: Communication breakdown. I'd hate to write a book that people couldn't be bothered to finish. On a more immediate cultural level I have this dreadful fear that Scotland will never beat England at rugby again. INCOME: I’m not answering that one. At the moment my income is below the national average, so buy the book. (Peter Ross)

a Body Politic is published by NEL at [5, 99