By Nick Hornby
Like High Fidelity, the only other Hornby book I've read & reviewed, I'd already seen the movie adaptation first. And like High Fidelity, I quite enjoyed reading About a Boy too, and couldn’t help thinking what a good job the filmmakers (the Weitz brothers) did in capturing the spirit and humour of the original novel. And again, like Hi Fi, reading the book was like picturing the movie all over again (and I didn’t have to convert American accents to British ones!)
A surprise treat was that the ending of the novel was completely different from the movie version. Instead of the school music concert where the boy, Marcus, performed a wincingly painful a capella rendition of “Killing Me Softly” for his suicidal mum, Marcus and his rebellious friend Ellie embark on an ill-fated train trip to visit his Dad. This culminates in a rather farcical situation which has all the adult characters gathered at a police station of a small town to retrieve their troublesome kids.
In some ways, I prefered the final act of the movie version, since it focused exclusively on the relationship dynamic of the three main characters: Wil, the boy Marcus, and his mother Fiona. And to be honest, it also had more of a comedic and dramatic arc (better for a Hollywood movie I guess). On the other hand, the novel’s ending involved several side characters and took place in a completely new setting, which seemed to dilute the story arc and relationship focus between Wil, Marcus and Fiona.
In any case, it was still a treat to read Hornby’s novel from beginning to end. About A Boy wasn’t as cleverly sardonic as High Fidelity, but nevertheless, it had better character development and an actual narrative with the “just right” touching moments you’d expect from a man-boy buddy story, without the sentimental clichés.