Just Like You. And, probably, me…

I have always loved Nick Hornby. I fell in love with his prose when Fever Pitch came out and was suitably skewered by his analysis of insecure, introspective young men with High Fidelity. I was, of course, charmed by About a Boy.

And, although I feel like these are going to the three books on his tombstone, even his less well known/popular books are, at worst, always readable.

The cover of ‘Just Like You’ by Nick Hornby

Love Across the Brexit Barricades

I can’t quite decide if this book is going to get him in trouble or not. It certainly tap dances into some pretty heated areas: this is a novel of love across Brexit barricades, splintering society, race. Not too many hot button issues for a white, middle class writer of a certain age to try and tackle.

Except it isn’t really. Because it’s Hornby and he’s just so good at what he does. In Joseph and Lucy he seems to have the only two people in the world prepared to admit that they don’t understand issues and don’t have all, or indeed any, of the answers.

Plot Summary

Lucy is a divorcee in her early 40s with two kids. Head of English at a not particularly good north London comprehensive, she juggles a trying-to-reform alcoholic ex, a good group of friends and some fairly shambolic blind dates with good humour and a resignation that this might be what life has left in store for her.

Into this fairly acceptable world comes Joseph. A 22-year-old man who dreams of a making music while paying for himself through football coaching, a part time job in a leisure centre, a bit of babysitting and tutoring and a Saturday job in the butchers of Lucy’s gentrified area.

With the Brexit referendum looming in the background, these two magnetically attracted people must decide where they stand and whether their race, their income, their education and their very different worlds can be surmounted by love.

Fragmentation

What the novel definitely does do is a fantastic job of demonstrating the divisions within which our society works now.

Joseph and Lucy inhabit different worlds, by dint of race, age and income but – crucially – the flow of information is literally different. 

Joseph gets his information from Instagram, chasing rabbit holes of information inaccessible to Lucy.

However, her white, middle class privilege means that both characters are ensconced in their own unintentionally echo chambers. If not comfortably then at least unquestioningly for a big chunk of the novel.

Hornby’s description of Lucy’s awareness of the difference between her generation is very well done and, frankly, scalpel sharp:

“Lucy was beginning to suspect that he might be what the girls at her school would refer to as a ‘fuckboy’, a word she discouraged them from using because of its first four letters but which in all other ways seemed an entirely welcome neologism. There had always been tarts and slags and sluts, and now there were fuckboys, and the contempt with which the girls spat the word out gladdened her heart.”

Astonishing Achievements

And yet, possibly its most astonishing achievements as a piece of work devoted to the present is that this is a novel from which anger is absent for the most part.

In fact, possibly the weakest aspect for the reader is that Hornby chooses not to show the arguments even when they do happen. They are reported but we don’t hear the words, we are merely told the fall out and left to decide for ourselves.

For a novel in which race is an enormous factor and at this moment in history, that’s a phenomenal achievement.

Hornby is still the best and most accessible of modern observers. He is razor sharp on the gentrified areas of north London where one normally encounters his characters. 

There’s a definite lineage between High Fidelity’s Rob and his DJ ambitions and 22-year-old Jospeh and his tracks. Of course, whereas Rob ran a slightly dilapidated record shop which his partner was a corporate lawyer, here we have a partner who is Head of English at a bog standard comprehensive and a young man with a portfolio career, scratching a living working multiple jobs.

The fact that this makes him better off than his peers at university is one of the quieter and depressing twists of Hornby’s knife.


Witness Joseph’s musical mentor and school friend. Zech.

“Americans used the dollar sign to look flash, but PoundMan sounded cheap, like Poundland. Zech meant it to sound cheap, too. It was, he said, a celebration of Haringey consumer culture.”

A Tale of Simple Things

Yet, at heart this is a novel of simple things. In a complicated world in which both characters come with baggage, make mistakes, there is a simple message.

“If you’d asked him…what made him happy, he wouldn’t really have understood the relevance of the question. Now he knew the answer: sleeping with Lucy, eating with Lucy, watching T.V. with Lucy. And maybe there was no future in it, but there was a present, and that’s what life consists of.”

Maybe that is something we can all, in this most heated and divided of times, get behind.

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Welcome to your new, improved nation – it’s a dog’s life

Dogs. Clearly not sentient.

Pets are the best, aren’t they?

And by pets, I mean dogs. (I have nothing against cats. Sure, they’re cute. But they’re not “pets” either. They’re Hannibal Lecter as house guest.)

But dogs – now you’re talking. There they are: cavorting on your bed; staring with undisguised joy at your return home; pleading with deep sincerity at the truth that they have never been fed before, honest guv.

And now, it turns out, they are keeping you healthier and living longer too. Frankly, that’s so cool, it almost makes you not mind about mud on the sheets, hair in your food and crippling midnight cramp because the Labrador knows where it wants to sleep – and that’s where you are. Always.

Attila. Another dog clearly not capable of feeling.

Britain is a nation of dog lovers, cue the cliche klaxon, but the UK’s love of animals is under threat from our own representatives.

If you live in the UK, your government voted on Thursday 16th November to not include animal sentience in the EU withdrawal bill.

Under current EU law, animals are recognized as being capable of feeling pain and emotion – something any one who has ever caught the eye of a bereft dachshund as you swallow the last morsel from your plate without sharing can attest to.

When Lily – Labrador, giant baby – had a tooth out, she cried as the anaesthetic wore off. All night. The only balm to her wound? Being stroked as if she were a human child. Don’t tell me she can’t feel pain.

The Government argues that this is a topic adequately covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 Bill. But it is not, as this doesn’t mention sentience. So, here we are: our government have just opened the door to all those wonderful things that we are

The torture of not being on the bed.

supposed to want in our brave new future: chlorine-washed chicken and a reduction in legislative standards which opens the door for drastically reduced standards for animal testing and food standards.

Many of the people who voted for Brexit count themselves patriots and want to restore the UK to what they see as its former glory.

So, here’s an idea: perhaps, just perhaps, they ought to extend this to our fabled love of animals. The RSPCA say this is a bad idea – even the hairball with the disturbed eyes knows that this is a bad idea. Make sure you let your elected officials know – this is wrong.