Nearly 20 years after penning his novel ‘How to Be Good’, British author Nick Hornby revisits the perspective of a forty-something mother of two children, separated from a fractious husband in his new book ‘Just Like You’. Staying in his comfort zone of middle-class London, Hornby explores issues of racism and class against the backdrop of the Brexit vote during and after 2016.
Hornby, a 63 year old white man, has also somewhat bravely voiced the point of view of a black man in his early 20s. Joseph is a directionless young Christian man working several jobs and stumbling along an amorphous path toward becoming a DJ. He meets Lucy, a 42 year old white English teacher at the butcher shop where he works on Saturdays. An ‘inside’ relationship forms between the two soon after Joseph starts babysitting Lucy’s two boys. The 20 year age gap becomes increasingly difficult to navigate as the relationship moves out of the couple’s bubble to the ‘outside’.
Hornby’s observations of casual racism, and generational and class views on racism in a modern Britain going through such a tumultuous change are on point. The perspicacity of the experiences of a young black man is believable and respectful.
The majority of the novel focusses on the difficulty of a much older woman having a relationship with a young man. It’s easy to understand why Hornby choses to voice an older woman’s perspective. There simply would be no story if it were an older man / much younger woman dynamic. Not even Hornby makes any insightful comment when Joseph and Lucy go to a club where there are so many men Lucy’s age with much younger women.
While ‘Just Like You’ is not a difficult read, it is still challenging enough to hold a mirror up to smug, white, middle-class certitude. The storyline in ‘Just Like You’ does start to fall flat in the second half of the book when Hornby runs with Lucy and Joseph’s ‘outing’. However, Hornby’s trademark humour and well written dialogue carry the novel.