About a Boy (novel)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||High Fidelity|
|Followed by||How to Be Good|
About a Boy is a 1998 coming of age novel written by British writer Nick Hornby which has sold over a million copies. It was adapted into a film of the same name and as an American television series in 2014 with a pilot directed by Jon Favreau.
Set in 1993 London, About a Boy features two main protagonists: Will Freeman, a 36-year-old bachelor, and Marcus Brewer, an incongruous schoolboy described as 'introverted' by his suicidal mother, Fiona, despite his tendencies to bond and interact with people. Will's father wrote a successful Christmas song, the royalties of which have afforded Will the ability to remain voluntarily redundant throughout his life – he spends his huge amounts of free time immersing himself in 1990s culture, drinking, using soft drugs and pursuing sexual relations with women.
After a pleasant relationship with a single mother, Angie, Will comes up with the idea of attending a single parents group as a new way to pick up women. For this purpose, he invents a two-year-old son called Ned. Will then makes a number of acquaintances through his membership of the single parents group, two of which are Fiona and her son Marcus. Although their relationship is initially somewhat strained, they finally succeed in striking up a true friendship despite Will being largely uninterested during the early-middle stages of the novel. Will, a socially aware and "trendy" person, aids Marcus to fit into 1990s youth culture by encouraging him not to get his hair cut by his mother, buying him Adidas trainers, and introducing him to contemporary music such as Nirvana. Marcus and Will's friendship strengthens as the story progresses, even after Marcus and Fiona discover Will's lie about having a child.
Marcus is befriended by Ellie McRae, a tough, moody 15-year-old girl, who is constantly in trouble at school because she insists on wearing a Kurt Cobain jumper. He also spends some time with his dad Clive, who visits Marcus and Fiona for Christmas together with his new girlfriend Lindsey and her mother. Clive has a minor accident during some D.I.Y work, and breaks his collar bone. This prompts Clive into having 'a big think' about the meaning of his life, and he summons Marcus to Cambridge to see him. Marcus decides to bring Ellie along with him for support, however they are arrested on the way as Ellie smashes a shop window displaying a cardboard cut-out of Kurt Cobain – accusing the shopkeeper of 'trying to make money out of him' after his suicide.
Meanwhile, to Will's despair, he falls in love with a woman called Rachel. Ironically, Rachel is a single mother with a son named Ali (Alistair) who is the same age as Marcus. Will's emotional faculties are liberated and he begins to 'shed [his] old skin' of emotional indifference – simultaneously Marcus is becoming more typical of his age, and he begins to enjoy his life more.
The penultimate scene takes place in a police station in a small suburban town, where nearly every significant character in the novel is present; their common link being Marcus. The novel ends during a three-way dialogue between Marcus, Will and Fiona where Will, to see if Marcus has truly changed, proposes the idea that he play a Joni Mitchell song on Fiona's piano, which she is enthusiastic about. However, Marcus responds saying he 'hates' Joni Mitchell whereby Hornby concludes the novel with the narration saying "Will knew Marcus would be OK."
The novel ends with Will and Marcus both having become more typical of their age groups, and happier because of it. Will intends to marry Rachel, and embraces romantic normality and Marcus enters his teenage phase in the typical fashion of a boy growing up in 1990s London.
The title is a reference to the song "About a Girl" by Nirvana. This was confirmed by the author in the 2 December 2001 edition of the BBC Radio 4 series, "Book Club". The band is featured in the book, and Patti Smith's tribute to Kurt Cobain, "About a Boy".
A film adaptation was released in 2002 by Chris and Paul Weitz. It starred Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, Hugh Grant as Will, Toni Collette as Fiona, and Rachel Weisz as Rachel. While the screenplay closely follows Hornby's novel, it omits scenes involving drug use and has a different ending. It removes any reference to the band Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. The soundtrack to the film, including several full songs and numerous incidental pieces, was composed entirely by British singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy.
About a Boy is available on abridged audiobook, read by Alan Cumming.
- Too Cool for Words The New York Times review by Hal Espen