Before I get into this, I love Nick Hornby’s novels. I’ve been a fan since reading Fever Pitch at A-Level; I always go back to High Fidelity and How to be good so it goes without saying that I was excited about the release of Just Like You, but would I like it as much as the others?
Well yes, I read this while laid up in bed with tonsillitis and this brightened up the hours where I wanted to rip my own throat out. It’s warm love story that challenges the expectations of the two lead characters.
Lucy is a 41-year-old, divorced, mother of two. She’s always played by the rules, met and married someone just like her, only to find he’s spent all their money and turned to drugs.
Joseph is a 22-year-old black man, living with his mum, he’s a bit aimless, he dreams of becoming a DJ and in the meantime is working multiple jobs, including at the butchers where the two first meet.
On paper, it really shouldn’t work.
Lucy isn’t looking for love, she’s after a babysitter. What starts as a flirtation, grows into something more but is it enough and can they overcome the things that divide them including class, culture and generation.
The two enjoy their bubble to begin with, staying at Lucy’s home, having sex and watching The Sopranos, it’s when they start to step outside the bubble that things become interesting.
In the backdrop to their budding romance is Brexit with Hornby choosing the run up to the 2016 referendum as his timeline. To begin with I was worried that Brexit would begin to overshadow the story, I for one have had enough of it, however, it’s subtly interwoven in through the people Lucy and Joseph interact with.
Lucy’s friends are ardent remainers, they see Brexit as a disaster and definitely racist. At the school she teaches in, the staff room is much more divided, the huge argument between two of her colleagues who then refuse to speak to each other, is a pretty accurate representation. I read it thinking ‘How utterly ridiculous’ then remembered ALL the arguments between people over bloody Brexit.
“The referendum was giving groups of people who didn’t like each other, or at least failed to comprehend each other, an opportunity to fight.” Nick Hornby
Hardly a ground-breaking revelation granted.
Joseph’s opinions on Brexit are much more interesting, he doesn’t feel strongly one way or another. His father, a scaffolder, throws himself into the leave campaign believing that voting out of the EU will leave him better off. His mother, a nurse, at first wants to remain saying the NHS needs staff from Europe, she changes her mind when she sees that bloody bus with the huge lie on the side of it.
Lucy and her friends can’t comprehend why anyone would vote leave, especially if they’re black, they’re aghast when Joseph admits he ticked both boxes in the voting booth, he’s able to see both sides of the argument and points out that racism exists everywhere:
“I thought you wanted us all to be British. Just because we’re black doesn’t mean we want to stay part of Europe. Half those countries are more racist than anyone here” Nick Hornby
It’s not just differences in politics they have to work out, its everything about their lives; Joseph’s mum is hardly thrilled about him dating someone close to her own age, the kids Lucy teaches love the salacious gossip, they’re both reluctant to introduce their friends to each other and both are hyper aware and sensitive to the twenty year age gap – the scene where Joseph plays her a song he’s mixed was brilliant as he described cringing as she did a ‘mum dance’. She’s insecure about her body and the softer of her wondering if its a turn off.
They try to find more suitable partners, try dating people with the same background who are the same age as them but find themselves drawn together. That for some reason it works despite the age gap, class gap, friends, family and race.
They’re two characters you root for, likeable and believable. Hornby always manages to capture society and different perspectives; his dialogue is always sharp and his books warm and witty with moments that you’ll recognise and laugh at.
Is ‘Just Like You’ his best work? Not quite, it’ll always be ‘High Fidelity’ for me, but ‘Just like you’ is a great piece of social commentary wrapped up in a readable and believable love story – give it a go.
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