About a Boy

by Nick Hornby

Hardcover, 1998




Riverhead Hardcover (1998), 307 pages


Fiction. Literature. Humor (Fiction.) HTML:A wise, hilarious novel from the beloved, award-winning author of Funny Girl, High Fidelity and A Long Way Down. Will Freeman may have discovered the key to dating success: If the simple fact that they were single mothers meant that gorgeous women �?? women who would not ordinarily look twice a Will �?? might not only be willing, but enthusiastic about dating him, then he was really onto something. Single mothers �?? bright, attractive, available women �?? thousands of them, were all over London. He just had to find them. SPAT: Single Parents �?? Alone Together. It was a brilliant plan. And Will wasn't going to let the fact that he didn't have a child himself hold him back. A fictional two-year-old named Ned wouldn't be the first thing he'd invented. And it seems to go quite well at first, until he meets an actual twelve-year-old named Marcus, who is more than Will bargained for... From the Trade Paperbac… (more)

Media reviews

Meisterschaft des Trivialen
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A follow-up to High Fidelity, British writer Hornby's superb 1996 novel about pop-music obsession, About A Boy (the film rights to which have reportedly been sold for $3 million) is an acerbic, emotionally richer yet no less funny tale. Will (36, single, lonely, in search of a girlfriend and a
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life) meets Marcus (12, lonely, in search of happiness for himself and his suicidal mother). At first, befriending Marcus is merely an attempt to assuage a guilty conscience brought about by a life of leisure.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member readingwithtea
Will has lots of money and no life experience. Marcus has no friends, no money and no hope of being rescued from his slide in social exile. Fiona is a depressed hippie, trying to raise a 12-year-old son in North London. They meet because Will decides single mothers are an as yet untapped resource.
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They actually end up having quite a good time together.

This is the first Nick Hornby I've enjoyed. He uses very different characters from the other two, which were replete with emo 30-somethings struggling with life. In this novel, Will has no struggles, Marcus is all struggle but is twelve (and excellently portrayed, I thought), and Fiona is depressed and really struggling - but crucially Fiona is never the narrator.

I do find it a bit odd that Hornby's novels are consistently and unrelentingly set in Holloway. Clearly I'm not cool enough to live there and to get the in-jokes.

All the spare characters were well-developed and witty as well - Rachel, the beautiful single mother with the homicidal son; Ellie, who worships Kurt Cobain and adopts Marcus; Clive, Marcus' absent father, and Lindsey, his dappy new girlfriend (and her omnipresent mother!). All of the characters are a bit crazy, but just on the right side of believably crazy - unlike the extras in How To Be Good.

The premise is bizarre - a single man, rich from the royalties of a single song his father wrote, goes in search of partners at a Single Parents' Therapy Group... and Marcus tries to feed a duck a whole loaf of baguette in one go, with disastrous consequences. All of it stays just on the credible line, which makes it funny but somehow never quite laugh out loud funny.
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LibraryThing member LittleWish
I read this after seeing the movie which starred Hugh Grant; it was still a good read because it is not exactly like the film. The book is the tale of two lives; a 36 year old single man named Will who has no job, no kids, no wife, lives off the money his dad made from a xmas jingle and a geeky
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pre-teen called Marcus who needs help to fit in. Will and Marcus help each other to realise what is important in the world. A great YA book.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Marcus, an unusual 12-year-old and Will, a detached 36-year-old cross paths in an unexpected way and find themselves forming an odd friendship. The two seem to have nothing in common, but somehow they bond. Marcus’ mother struggles with depression and his father lives out of town. In addition to
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that he is mercilessly bullied at school. Will provides a bit of objective advice about his life and a safe haven for the overwhelmed boy.

“Sometimes Marcus sounded as though he were a hundred years old, and it broke Will’s heart.”

I love the way Hornby writes and the characters he creates. You don’t actually have to like the characters to like the story. I really appreciated the fact that Hornby didn’t force some unbelievable romantic relationship into the story. He lets the friendship take center stage. His books often revolve around man-children who are terrified to grow up and accept any real responsibility. Will definitely meets those requirements and he bugged me throughout the book. He is supposed to be so incredibly cool, but he just came across as a complete loser to me. He has no real friends or family. He has never held a job in his entire life. Every single decision he makes is completely selfish and self-serving and he is a habitual liar. All of those are red-flags and if I found out a guy I was dating lied about having a child, I think that would be a serious deal-breaker.

Marcus was by far by favorite part of the book. His odd way of looking at the world (possibly autistic?) is so honest, but also heartbreaking. He’s completely logical, but can’t pick up on normal social cues or sarcasm. It’s his influence on Will, unknowingly encouraging him to take a risk and try to engage in his own life, which had the biggest impact on me. It made me a bit sad that Marcus changed so much by the end of the book.

“All three of them had had to lose things in order to gain other things. Will had lost his shell and his cool and his distance, and he felt scared and vulnerable, but he got to be with Rachel; and Fiona had lost a big chunk of Marcus, and she got to stay away from the casualty ward; and Marcus had lost himself, and he got to walk home from school with his shoes on.”

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed this odd story about an unlikely friendship. It’s not my favorite Hornby novel (that would be High Fidelity and Juliet, Naked), but it’s up there. It’s also a good place to start with his work. I have a feeling that Marcus will stick with me for quite a while.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I don't remember it very well, but I did recommend it to my husband, who normally reads mystery/thrillers and sci-fi, so it must be pretty good.
LibraryThing member KarriesKorner
I loved this story. Hornby gets all his characters to come alive and be likable. As shallow as Will is at the beginning of the book, I really liked him by the end of the book. This book is funny, warm-hearted, realistic and charming.

Listening to it was especially nice because I listen to listen to
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an English accent.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
I really enjoyed this book. I found much of the dialogue and the characters very humorous and am looking forward to reading more from this author.
LibraryThing member karieh
I’ve seen the movie “About a Boy” many times…and like/love it. Then again, I am a complete sucker for almost anything featuring Hugh Grant and whatever incarnation (floppy, spiky, messy) his hair is in.

Now, after reading the book, not only am I reminded how much I love reading Nick
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Hornby’s books, but also how funny and yet poignant his words are.

Taken in the following order, these quotes may be confusing if you’ve never read the book or seen the movie. The story is about Marcus, twelve, and Will, thirty-six. Neither fits into the role of the “average” boy/man of their age. Marcus, because of the life he shares with his mother is far too old for his age, and Will, because of the actions of his father (his mother is completely absent, not even a mention, although I may have missed it), is far too immature for his. Their lives intersect in a very interesting way…and so follow great changes for each.

(Will) “In the past, any conversation that began this way usually meant that she had found something out, or that he had done something mean, or stupid, or grotesquely insensitive, but he really thought he had kept a clean sheet in this relationship. His silence bought him time while he scanned through his memory banks for any indiscretions he may have forgotten about, but there was nothing. He would have been extremely disappointed if he had found something, an overlooked infidelity, say…”

OK – while funny - that wasn’t poignant – so let’s try this from the perspective of Marcus, the twelve year-old. His mother tells him in frustration, “Oh, I don’t know what I mean. I just know that we’re not doing each other any good.”

“Hold on a moment. They didn’t do each other any good? For the first time since his mother had started crying, he wanted to cry, too. He knew she wasn’t doing him any good but he had no idea it worked both ways. What had he done to her? He couldn’t think of a single thing.”

And once more back to funny (and Will): “ So here he was, in his mid-thirties, knowing in all the places there was to know that he didn’t have a two year-old son but still working on the presumption that, when it came to the crunch, one would pop up from somewhere.”

With only the movie under my belt, I’d always thought the “boy” referred to in the title was Marcus…given that he’s twelve. But now that I’ve read the book, been in Will’s head even more than the voice-overs in the movie allowed me to be, I think the “boy” is Will. This came through more as the story of his growing up at the age of thirty-six, and it’s a very good one at that.

We are able to see him finally start to become involved in the world, in people, in life, in a way he’s never been before. At first, of course, it’s messy and frustrating and hard.

“So don’t deal with me!” He was nearly shouting now. He was certainly angry. They had been talking for less than three minutes, yet he was beginning to feel as though this telephone conversation was going to be his life’s work; that once every few hours he would put the receive down to eat and sleep and go to the toilet, and the rest of the time Fiona would be telling him one thing and then its opposite over and over again.”

Whether he’s writing from Will or Marcus’s point of view – Hornby’s words are witty and realistic and true. Thirty-six, twelve…he brings out the man in the boy and the boy in the man…and I’m always glad to be along for the ride.
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LibraryThing member FrogPrincessuk
I'm afraid I just don't 'get' Nick Hornby. I could only bring myself to finishing this book after I had seen the film. His main characters always seem to be lazy, selfish men, who I cannot stand to put up with - even in a book. This one is no different - a man who doesn't have to work for a living
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and decides to pose himself as a single dad in order to pull. This immaturity annoys me to the point of missing any sense of humour the book has to offer. The boy - Marcus - is only marginally more likeable as a character.

Gets 1.5 stars because at least it was better than High Fidelity.
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LibraryThing member pdxwoman
Shallow, self-absorbed, independently wealthy, unemployed almost-40 man (Will) meets odd, intelligent, lonely, 12-year-old boy (Marcus) with depressed single mum.

Sounds dull, but it isn't. It's witty, insightful, and intelligent. The writing style moves the reader along at a nice clip, with
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chapters alternating between Will and Marcus.

I didn't, however, like the ending. It's better than the cheesy ending of the movie version, with Hugh Grantsinging "Killing Me Softly", but I think the book would have ended on a better note if Marcus hadn't made the particular change he made. I don't want to spoil it, so that's all I'll say about that.
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LibraryThing member Amzzz
When an unlikely "friendship" is formed between 36 year old Will and 12 year old Marcus, it will teach them both about life, and how they are missing out on what is normal for their respective age groups. This was a really good read, very hard to put down. I like the different perspectives and I
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think Nick Hornby captured the characters' voices brilliantly.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
On the surface, Nick Hornby offers up a story that could be a truly awful Lifetime move of the week - rich cad befriends nerdy boy, all learn lesson about love and right the world.

Fortunately, Nick Hornby is far more gifted than to leave these characters in such a state. This is a difficult novel
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where we do see the longing for the Lifetime movie ending, we see an adult grow up and we see that each of us pretending to be our own islands will ultimately work to our detriment as we're determined to force the rest of the world to acknowledge our island-i-ness. Hornby doesn't forbid our uniqueness, About a Boy just questions whether we cling to these lifestyles as a way of keeping the rest of the world at arms length. These characters are well drawn and recognizable.

For those that are wondering about the book vs. the movie, I was quite pleased all the way around in that they didn't make changes I feared after reading the book and hearing that there was to be a film version.
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LibraryThing member katiagarcia
The book starts with 2 different stories at london, the story is going to be around 2 boys, marcus a little weird boy of 12 years old trying to get a family; and will a single old men who doesnt need anything about life, at least it is what he thinks. They lifes could be changed with the help of
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each other; I liked the book by the end you understand what is each other looking for their lifes.
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LibraryThing member veracite
This is my favourite yet this year. Why?

Will let Marcus butter the crumpets because he loved doing it. It was much better than buttering toast, beccause with toast you had that thing where if the butter was too cold and hard all you could do was scrape off the brown that made toast what it was, and
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he hated that. With crumpets it was effortless: you just put a lump of butter on top, waited for a few seconds, then messed it about until it started to disappear into the holes. It was one of the few occasions in life where things seemed to go right every time.

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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This is the story of Will, 36, a man who knows more about being a child than being an adult, and Marcus, 12, a boy who knows more about being an adult than being a child. This is the story of their unlikely relationship and how they each help the other to live a fuller, happier life. Definitely
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cute, definitely well-written, and definitely an easy read. I'd recommend this for anyone in the mood for a mental break.
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LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
How do you become a human being? Simple. You form relationships with other human beings. Otherwise you are, as the main character says of himself, "blank."

The movie changed the Nirvana theme to Rap, which pretty much took away the irony of the title (About a Girl), but it was one of the few movies
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where I actually liked Hugh Grant.
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LibraryThing member summonedbyfells
I have a slight apprehension about this mix of relentless male self-absorbed blokishness and the painful angst of a twelve year old growing up that I find a bit incongruous. They don’t quite go together for me somehow. However the two main characters are enjoyably drawn and very believable too,
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especially Marcus. The author has a good memory for the memories of childhood and managed to resurrect long forgotten aspects of my own growing-up which were instantly recognisable, but would have remained deep in the sub-conscious were it not for this amusing story, a little contrived though it may be.
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LibraryThing member LadyN
I really enjoyed this meeting of minds tale. Well worth reading before you see the film - which is a refreshingly loyal representation.
LibraryThing member madhuri_agrawal
A nice read. It is a story of a strange relationship between a man and a child, brought together by curious circumstances. Neither of these quite belong to their age, and somehow strangely the relationship makes them belong. It is a sort of a book of growing up - for Will (the man) more than Marcus
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(the boy)
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LibraryThing member Griff
Nick Hornby continues to be a joy to read. My recent long trip, marked by significant layovers in Washington, London, and Bahrain, was made enjoyable by this book. I'll now need to watch the movie again to compare and contrast - it has been years since I've seen it. Upon my return to the U.S. I
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think I'll pick up High Fidelity as well. It is nice to be able to turn to a book for intelligent laughs. Hard to go wrong in selecting a Hornby book.
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LibraryThing member cossy
a great book. a very funny, quick read that might inspire you to invite more people into your life. even if doesn't its cool to read a book where kurt cobain's suicide is central point of the plot.
LibraryThing member bribre01
I saw this movie first, and the book is ten times better. I love Nick Hornby's dry, witty humor. Nick Hornby does a fantastic job of describing and painting a person or scene without overwhelming you with useless details.
LibraryThing member flashicon
I saw About a Boy as a movie first, then read the book later. The book is quirky and funny in that dry British way. It was a great funny read with a great kind of inner dialog with the main character. Definately worth a read as are most of Hornby's books.
LibraryThing member sarahlouise
this amazing novel shifts between two voices--one a boy who is too much a man and a man who is too much a boy and how they both are able to take their actual roles through the events in this novel. Also, a great movie. Mental health issues are presented with sensitivity and honesty.
LibraryThing member piefuchs
I am embarassed that I finished this mediocre book. Chick lit - of the sort where the lit is meant very lightly. Hornby had one story to offer the world and it was published as High Fidelity...
LibraryThing member TanyaTomato
I've discovered Nick Hornby as an author instead of just seeing the movies that his books have been made out of, and I have to say, he is good. The characters are amusing, and the stories are interesting. This particular story is great, and even though I had seen the movie I enjoyed reading it.


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2000)


Original language



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