Books: Paddy Clarke, no no no

ABOUT A BOY by Nick Hornby Gollancz pounds 15.99

LET'S GET this out of the way early on: Fever Pitch. There, said it. Whether he likes it or not, Nick Hornby must live with the fact that very few people can say his name without mentioning that first book in the same breath. It did, after all, bring him fame and fortune - even before being adapted into a poor but popular film. It also influenced an entire sporting industry, playing a considerable part in the acceptance of football as a proper pursuit for nice middle-class boys.

The peculiar status of Fever Pitch as a kind of autobiography that felt like fiction enabled the publishers to promote his second book, High Fidelity, as his first novel. Thankfully this was an even better piece of work, the story of an emotionally underdeveloped record shop owner obsessed not with football but music. In it, Hornby perfected his ability to write about male feelings in a way that both sexes can identify with - the men marvelling that someone has found a way to describe their most vulnerable and unappealing moments without quite abandoning them as pathetic, the women giving jeers of recognition that sometimes even give way to understanding.

About A Boy is novel number two then, and as such it suffers from what the lead character in High Fidelity would recognise as Second Album Syndrome. This is what happens when a new band bursts onto the music scene (as they say in such circles) with a debut recording that draws on a well of creativity stored up during years of obscurity, then goes to make a follow-up and finds that the source has run dry. The solution is often to fall back on the ideas and structures that were so successful the first time around.

The world described by About A Boy will be very familiar to the Hornby fan. Its protagonist, Will, is a thirtysomething who hasn't quite grown up (in his case because he hasn't had to, being the beneficiary of regular and generous royalty cheques from a Christmas novelty single, written by his father many years ago). He lives in North London, doesn't quite understand women, and assesses people on the basis of the music they listen to (an authorial shorthand that worked better in High Fidelity, when the songs in question were usually classics from the past, than it does in About A Boy, concerned as it is with Nirvana, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and other music of 1993, and therefore feels instantly dated and awkward, neither nostalgic nor contemporary).

The difference, of course, is the boy Marcus, the bright but unworldly product of dysfunctional parents, who is drawn by events into contact with Will and sees him as the epitome of cool. Since cool is what Marcus doesn't have, and what he needs to stop people beating him up in the playground, he latches on to Will.

For his part Will does not need to work, so has the time and money to devour style magazines and follow their guidance - and being without much experience or personality, the current definition of cool is about all he has to offer anyone. The scene is set, then, for a sequence of events that moves slowly and predictably towards a happy ending, in which Will and other troubled individuals achieve various forms of redemption. It trundles along nicely enough, but there are very few of the jaw-dropping "God-let-me-just-read-you-this-bit" moments of comedy or insight one now expects from Hornby.

Worse is the growing suspicion that even Marcus, a boy with bad hair but perception and humour beyond his years, is just another, shorter version of the standard Hornby male. As attempts to get inside the mind of a young man go, this sure ain't Paddy Clarke.

At the end of Fever Pitch, the author describes watching Michael Thomas break through the Liverpool defence to score the goal that won Arsenal the 1989 League Championship. Reading his new book, one feels as Gunners fans must when watching that moment on video, nearly a decade later. Thomas still scores, the crowd still cheers, the components are all there - but it is nowhere near as exciting as the first time around. Describing that moment of victory as sweeter for the fan than either sex or the birth of a child, Hornby wrote that real life was "paler, duller and contains less potential for unexpected delirium" - words that also serve to describe About A Boy. It's not bad, but from him that's just not good enough.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas