About a Boy (1998)

by Nick Hornby

About a Boy is about two boys actually. There is the obvious one: Marcus, a 12-year-old misfit recently transplanted by his depressed single mother from Cambridge to London, where he is friendless and mercilessly taunted by classmates at his new school. And there is 36-year-old Will, whose ability to have mature relationships never developed.

Will seemingly is happily unattached, keeping each girlfriend only to the point when she wants more from him. He has never had to work, drawing an easy £40,000 a year from royalties from his late father's one hit song. He spends his days enjoying daytime TV, going to the local shops, tidying his expensively applianced bachelor flat, and keeping up the trappings of coolness. When Will's nice-guy act deceives a single mother, who worries that he wants more than a fling, he decides single mothers might be the perfect dates. In one of the book's hilarious incidents, he is the sole male at a meeting of SPAT (Single Parents — Alone Together), lovingly discussing his made-up son Ned. Through one of the SPAT members Will meets Marcus, the son of the woman's friend Fiona. Marcus starts showing up at Will's place every afternoon after school and at first is an unwelcome intrusion, but the two gradually bond. Will teaches Marcus how to be cool — to wear the right shoes and listen to the right music. Marcus — not necessarily consciously — teaches Will that real relationships are messy, but he can't shut himself off from them. By the end the boys are growing not only in their relationship with one another but also in their relationships with other people.

This was the second novel by Hornby to explore the weaknesses of contemporary males. Both it and the first, High Fidelity (1995), were adapted into films. Hornby later wrote How to Be Good (2001), which won the W. H. Smith Award for Fiction, and A Long Way Down (2005), which was shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Novel Award and a 2006 Commonweath Writers Prize.


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