It’s been a while since I last consciously read anything by Nick Hornby. I remember reading High Fidelity as a teenager, and then again as a slightly older teenager, and being struck by just how poignant and acerbic his style of romantic comedy writing was, and still is.
Title: Just Like You
Author: Nick Hornby
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Books
Publication Date: 17th September 2020
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
About the Book
Against a backdrop of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Lucy, a white English teacher and forty-odd year old semi-divorced mother of two, meets Joseph, a young black man working a number of jobs, including one in her local butcher’s shop.
Lucy works in a North London school and is used to working with a range of students from a range of backgrounds, but it’s different when the man that you’re attracted to is from a different class, a different educational background and a different age … isn’t it? They both assume their relationship – if you can call it that – will soon fizzle out, but is it actually something that can endure?
I really like Nick Hornby’s writing style. It’s that perfect combination of being sharply observational and very witty, whilst somehow capturing his characters’ insecurities and all the things that they aren’t saying to each other.
Lucy and Joseph have very different frames of reference, which they slowly discover across their relationship and the book. Lucy thinks nothing of holidays abroad or in a friend’s second home with a swimming pool. She’s aware her friendship group isn’t particularly diverse and, although she’s largely able to pick up on her own unconscious bias, she worries that her friends may not remain her friends for much longer – not just post-Joseph, but also post-Brexit.
Joseph, on the other hand, fears introducing his ‘grey ting’ to his younger, more diverse friends. He fears she won’t fit in, that she will be mumsy, embarrassing – something he perhaps need to understand about his own embarrassment. There times when he intentionally plays a ‘race card’ because he is a young man who doesn’t know how to deal with some of the direct conversations Lucy wants to have. On the other hand, he also calls Lucy out on behaviours and phrasing that she could just do better on.
Although, in many ways, it feels as though very little happens, I did really enjoy reading this book. The Brexit backdrop is a little uncomfortable to read, but actually does a really good job of calling out middle class complacency on the topic – some people voted a completely different way because they truly believed that it would be better for them. And racism isn’t just white vs black – it can go both ways (something Joseph particularly fears about his relationship with Lucy) and, using Brexit as an excuse, racism became very anti-Eastern European.
But race isn’t the only stumbling block in their relationship – in fact, it’s also the most minor one. The biggest barrier is the age gap, with Lucy the same age as Joseph’s mother but, as was pointed out a few times, she had clearly lived a very different kind of life. Lucy’s middle class lifestyle actually makes it easier for her to fit in with a more working class crowd because, despite Joseph’s fears, she’s not his mother, and hasn’t lived his mother’s life.
But more importantly, it’s their different attitudes towards their relationship. I found this a bit harder to read, as it puts each age group into one category, which certainly isn’t true. But Joseph is the ‘youth’, who engages with his phone and is really only living for the moment. Whilst Lucy is a little more middle-aged, always thinking and planning ahead, and more aware of the world around her, she thinks. It means that, when viewing their relationship, they both dispassionately assume that it will end at some point.
Learning to have a relationship with each other involves accepting their differences, accepting their attraction to each other and accepting how two seemingly different lives and influence each other into being a slightly different person.
I received an eARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.