What can I say about About a Boy? Well, I saw the film years ago and really enjoyed it. It’s my favourite Hugh Grant film, as his films usually aren’t aimed at my demographic. I picked up the novel, written by Nick Hornby, that the film is based on late last year for a dollar and I was like ‘Score!’ and it is indeed an excellent novel.
Will is a thirty something living in London who has life very easy. His father wrote a Christmas jingle decades ago and Will now lives off the royalties. No need to work. He fills his days with units of time dedicated to shopping, listening to music and watching daytime TV. He can’t see how anyone would have time for a job, and also slips in and out of casual relationships with various women.
Marcus, on the other hand, is a twelve year old who lives with his mum, Fiona. She shelters him, dressing him like a hippie and making him listen to Joni Mitchell. Deep down she is unfulfilled. Marcus, while naïve, is also quirky and observant. Their home life is a struggle, as Marcus is isolated and gets bullied at school but doesn’t want to trouble his mother with his problems. So it’s all a bit of a façade.
Will and Marcus meet by chance when Will begins dating Suzie, a friend of Fiona’s, after discovering a new way to pick up women by posing as a single father at a single parent’s club. After his mother attempts suicide, Marcus figures he needs someone else in the picture for back up and settles on Will. He shows up at Will’s door, discovering that Will has no kid, and uses this as leverage to spend time with Will.
Will is resistant at first, but takes to the boy. After bullies follow Marcus to Will’s door, Will decides he has to do something and gets Marcus some new clothes and a copy of Nevermind to try to make him a little bit more hip and modern.
Marcus meets a girl who he likes at school, the rebellious Ellie. Will also falls head over heels for Rachel, an illustrator. Both characters become important to each other in their respective romantic pursuits.
The relationship between Will and Marcus is peculiar and it is satisfying to see both of them grow and change through their unique bond. In Marcus Will finds someone who he actually cares about, and Marcus finds in Will some older male company and guidance. The novel switches point of view between the two main characters, taking alternate chapters. This is crucial to the layout of the novel and is very effective. The switch is natural at times I felt when after reading one character for a while I had the urge to find out how the other is thinking about the unfolding events. The change in voice is also refreshing.
The film follows the book fairly closely up until the final act, when the rock band Nirvana becomes an essential plot point, and the events differ significantly. I think the book goes deeper into the character arcs here than the movie and articulates the internal and external conflicts very well. I have to say I was expecting more of a revelation from Marcus’ father in the climax, as he is a character who doesn’t really appear in the movie much from memory.
Characters are really well drawn. Marcus is a treasure, seeing the world with both innocence and maturity. Will is a laugh, with plenty of sarcastic one-liners. Ellie is funny too. Fiona is tragic but also a very strong character.
This novel is filled with emotion, drama and humour, and is well worth it.