Maureen, Martin, JJ, and Jess just happen to meet up one New Year's Eve on the roof of Topper's House, an establishment in London, but they're not there to celebrate the New Year. Each of these four people have made four different journeys to Topper's House to--top themselves, as the British would say. And three out of four of them are, in fact, British. Anyway, each of these people was expecting some privacy at a time like this, but instead, they wound up embarking on another journey altogether.
Nick Hornby is known for writing humorous stories, and in this novel, he successfully tells the story of how four depressed people grudgingly form a support group, albeit a very unorthodox one, with a good balance of humor and seriousness. The four characters take turns first telling their own stories, then telling their common story, each in a very different voice and perspective.
I was impressed by the way Jess, a teenaged girl who is easily one of the most annoying characters I've ever encountered in or out of a book, gradually morphs into a more controlled and likeable young woman. Her problems aren't miraculously going away, but she's better in every way by the end. And then there's Maureen, who seems to have the most obvious reasons to be depressed, but it turns out that a few doable changes is all she needs to feel much, much better. Martin and JJ need to develop their plan B's, and by the end, they are making a start at that, instead of just despairing.
The unusual thing about this group of four is that they really don't much enjoy each other, don't seem to make each other feel particularly better, but--they are hooked on meeting each other, nonetheless. It keeps them going, and the common connection they feel does force them to look outside of themselves. They become unlikely people in each other's lives, and therein lies most of the humor.
I like that the ending isn't perfect. Everyone is better off than they were the night they agreed to walk downstairs and out of Topper's House, but things are not perfect for any of them by a long shot. I also admire the way A Long Way Down manages to be engaging and light, while being so touching and sad at the same time. Nick Hornby has breathed life into these characters, four people with emerging hope for the future.
It's a very enjoyable, interesting read, and I'd recommend this book!