About a boy; Nick Hornby, 1998; The Berkley Publishing Group; New York, NY
I know its long past the time when everyone and their mother has either read ‘About a boy’ or seen the 2002 movie adaptation staring; Hugh Grant, Nickolas Hoult, Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz. What can I say, I’m a slow bloomer.
I actually saw the film when it came out and immediately listed it as one of my top 100 favorite films to-decade. And not just because the casting was brilliant: the story line won me over hands down as well.
When I saw the movie, I thought my emotional connection to the main character, ‘Will Freeman’, could best be quantified by hormones and a DNA predilection for bad boys that look like – Hugh Grant. Yet much to my chagrin, upon further reflection I realized that the real reason I was able to empathize with Will’s character is because…well…I’m more like the guy than I thought (I mean how wrong is it to want to live on the planet ‘Shawn’, in the solar system of ‘Me’ anyway?)
Then couple of weeks ago, while making the usual rounds through my local library – perusing shelves for new genre material to broaden my literary horizons – I came across ‘About a boy’ – the novel. Remembering how much I enjoyed the movie, I snatched up the book and threw it on the pile of an already over indulged stack of assorted YA fantasy, mystery-suspense-murder, urban and attempted steam punk, then headed on home for a cozy weekend read.
Once I started reading the book it was like putting my hand into a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Pieces: I couldn’t put it down until I finished with the whole thing (except of course that reading isn’t nearly as challenging to your figure as eating a bag peanut butter coated fat) Hornby’s character development is so rich and life like, he makes you forget that the players are not real (or are they?). He even goes so far as to convince the reader that narcissism may even be an acceptable life form: not to mention the full lineup of dysfunctional beings like Marcus (pubescent teenage-hippie-mother – coddled-father – abandoned-nerdy-manipulating boy; Fiona (manically depressed- anti-establishment-hippie-quasi vegan); as well as a fine assortment of desperate mothers, a pot-smoking father and a rebellious-emotionally abandoned girlfriend.
By the time I finished the book I was forced to come to several conclusions: first, if time travel were possible, I’d go back try and convince the author to exchange his ending with the one screenwriter’s Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz and Peter Hedges wrote (beginning with the part where Marcus decides that the best way for him to make Fiona, his mother happy again, is to perform “Killing Me Softly” in the schools ‘rock & roll talent show’) as I felt theirs stayed truer to Will’s narcissistic core values than Hornby’s did.
Secondly, I never want to hear the lyrics to “Killing Me Softly” (Roberta Flack) again. Unless of course its being sung by Nickolas Hoult and Hugh Grant (or their dopplagangers)
Thirdly, not all novel – to screen adaptations are bad (including but not limited to Peter Jacksons: The Lord of the Rings; King Kong & The Hobbit; Kevin Costner’s 1997; The Postman [yes, I know Costner got Razzes 1998 Award for Worst Film, Actor, Director and Screenplay of the year – but did you read the book?]).
And fourthly: despite what I see as ‘fluxed capacitor’ type ending, I still enjoyed the novel as much as I did the movie; winning both a coveted place on my book-movie shelves, where they will remain until….whenever.
On a scale of one to five, “About a boy” gets four stars (the fluxed ending cost Hornby a half point).
From the laptop of an uncensored dreamer