Hornby is so good at illustrating our life’s unspeakable pain with acerbic humour. A Long Way Down is not actually about committing suicide. It is about how life can open up another chapter if we don’t die. On another new year’s eve, it makes me ponder how many people out there need a heart-to-heart conversation, and how we can start this conversation … I wish everyone a prosperous 2017. I also hope that we all can take a moment to care for the people around us.
This was a book club selection, so I had no choice but to read it. What a surprise! I expected it to be rather trite, but found it instead to be quite touching.
The Queen, feeling melancholy, essentially wanders off on her own to make her way to Scotland to visit the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia in the hopes of rekindling some pleasant memories. Six people, all but one connected with the royal household, pair off in pursuit to retrieve her and ensure her safety. This isn’t merely about the Queen “going walkabout”, however. We get insight into the lives of each of these people.
Rajiv, a young man of Indian descent, still treated by many as a foreigner despite both he and his parents having been born in Britain, is smitten with Rebecca, who is employed at the royal stables, or Mews, and is far more comfortable in the company of horses than of people.
Luke is a young military officer, assigned to the household as an Equerry, had served in Iraq, is likely suffering from PTSD, and is filled with loneliness, grief, and guilt over the loss of a very close friend. He is thrown together with William, who has made the royal household his career, and finds himself strongly attracted to Luke as he shepherds him through the crisis of the Queen’s disappearance.
Anne, only 10 years younger than the Queen and an outcast from a noble family, is a Lady in Waiting. She is a widow and is estranged from her son, and dreads the prospect of her approaching retirement. In the pursuit she is paired off with Shirley, the Queen’s dresser, who for historic family reasons is openly hostile to Ladies in Waiting. For her part, Anne resents the intimacy of the relationship between Shirley and the Queen. The crisis reveals common experiences, and engenders mutual respect.
I find it odd that some people have complained about the details of all these characters as being a distraction from what they think is the point of the story: namely the Queen’s unplanned excursion. They seemed to have a preconceived notion of how the story should go, rather than just letting the story take them where it wants to go.
I enjoyed this story because it touches so sensitively and so well on so many parts of the human condition: aging, sadness, finding purpose, grief, loss, prejudice, and most importantly, love. It also gave me a new appreciation for Shakespeare’s Henry V.