Imagine feeling a despair so deep that you decide to end it all. You pick New Year's Eve as the time to do it, because you cannot face another year. You go to the top of a building, intending to jump off, only to discover that there is more a less a line of people wanting to do the same thing.
This is the premise of Nick Hornby's fourth novel. Four people--Jess, Martin, Maureen, and JJ-- meet each other at the top of a London building, all intending to jump. Jess is a teenaged girl whose life hasn't been the same since her older sister disappeared, though her current angst is due to a guy. Jess's object of her affection is scared to death of Jess's obsessive behavior. Martin is a former TV talk-show host who recently served time in prison due to sexual relations with a minor. He lost his job, his wife, and his children due to the affair. Maureen is the mother of a severly disabled young man. She spends all her time caring for him and has no life of her own. JJ is an American (the other three are British) who was starting to find some success in the music business until he band broke up. His girlfriend also broke up with him at around the same time. With no music, no girlfriend, and no other skills, not even a high school diploma, life looks pretty grim to JJ.
Maureen and Martin actually prevent Jess from jumping, and JJ shows up asking if anyone ordered a pizza. Of course, no one had, but they eat the pizza and start talking. Finally, Jess convinces them to help her find Chas, the object of her obsession.
The long night ends with a promise, though reluctantly extracted from some, to wait six weeks before attempting suicide again and to look out for each other. The four also decide to meet regularly.
The story is told in the first person, alternating between the four characters. The four are very different from each other, making it difficult for them to get along and look out for each other. To me, the most intriguing character in a way is Jess. Of the four, she is the one with the least amount of tact. She can actually be quite mean at times, and could use some help in the social skills department. But she is always the one saying they should look out for each other and coming up with ideas to help one of the others.
I guess the main message I got from this book was that sometimes it doesn't take much to help someone, even if they are in deep despair. I don't mean to sound flippant at all, but sometimes seemingly little changes in one's life can cause one to feel much better about things. Maybe that's the key--"seemingly little." A change in circumtances that seems minor might make a big difference to someone else.