Just Like You is Childish


Just Like You (2020

By Nick Hornby

Riverhead, 368 pages.




Once upon a time there was a promising writer from Britain named Nick Hornby. He wrote a fine debut novel, High Fidelity, and followed with another good one, About a Boy. When the second one came out, Hornby was 39. Apparently, someone forget to tell him that About a Boy should not be an aspirational goal. In his latest novel, Just Like You, the 63-year-old Hornby has gone full bore Peter Pan.


The subtitle of the book could be The Cougar and the Black Kid. It centers on a middle-class Londoner named Lucy. She’s an English teacher and a not-quite-yet divorcee with two sub-teen sons. Her husband Paul abuses alcohol and is a total jerk when plastered; there is no salvation for their marriage. Lucy is 40ish, but is still “hot”–a word that Hornby uses a lot–and friends and associates urge her to get back in the game. What they are mostly saying is that she should get laid. Quite naturally, Lucy recoils at such childish talk–until she doesn’t.


Lucy buys nice cuts of meat from a local butcher, one of whose employees is a good-looking young man named Joseph. He’s 20, loves football–that’s soccer to Americans–dreams of being a hip-hop deejay, and is a black youth who still lives at home. On the spur of the moment Lucy asks Joseph to babysit her sons. They adore him because of his love of football and Xbox video games. Before you can say rib roast, though, he and Lucy begin to have sex. And why not? Joseph thinks she’s “hot,” she thinks he’s “hot,” and together they have lots of hot sex. Besides, she was set up for a blind date with Michael Marwood, an urbane, successful writer with kids. He’s also almost divorced, but is in his 50s, seems more appropriate as an intellectual friend, and admits he sometimes can’t rise to the occasion, as it were. Well, that’s not “hot.”


This novel seeks to be a 21st century update of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner set against a background of Brexit and a 20-year age gap. Joseph, by the way, doesn’t follow politics and plans to vote “out” just because his construction worker father Chris–who is estranged from the family–says it will get rid of foreigners and create more jobs for working-class stiffs like himself. Lucy and all her middle-class circle are voting “stay,” and her pleas (sort of) sway Joseph. Like I said, he doesn’t follow politics, though he does have a unique way of resolving his confusion over Brexit. Nor does Joseph read much that isn’t about music or football, and he surely doesn’t peruse the highbrow stuff Lucy likes. But there’s always the hot sex. It’s so hot that he moves in. Lucy thinks it will be a short-time thing until he finds someone his own age–until she doesn’t.


See a pattern here? What an awkward novel! How can it be other that, aside from a random cop, the white people in this book–including Paul–never mention color? The biggest discussion of race takes place inside Joseph’s family, but they’ve never actually met Lucy. Let’s see: Lucy is in a deep relationship with a guy who has more in common with Lucy’s kids than with her, sets up house with a black guy in a London neighborhood that’s entirely white despite the objections of his family, is sleeping with someone closer in age to her students, doesn’t know much about Joseph’s age cohort or interests–though she’s willing to learn–and thinks she can hang out in his world. And I’ve not even begun to catalog the absurdities of Just Like You.


I suppose the title is supposed to be ironic, as everything about the book shouts out that Lucy and Joseph are not alike. Not in age, not in life experience, not in interests, not in social class, and not in race. Any one of those themes explored in a serious way could redeem an otherwise lamentable work. Too many reviewers have been kind to Just Like You, perhaps because they imagine it as a frothy farce; the word “funny” appears frequently in those reviews. Maybe others simply think race shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t, but I’ve spent time in England and it damn well does. What’s the “joke” in this novel? When it’s not being Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? it comes off as a gender-reversed My Fair Lady that crosses the patronization border.


Just Like You is a WTF novel that becomes more unbelievable and condescending as it goes on. The less said about its contrived 2019 code the better. The best adjective to describe this work is immature. Grow up, Nick!


Rob Weir





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