(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Twelve-year-old Marcus and his mother, Fiona, have just moved from Cambridge to London, four years after his parents’ divorce. Marcus tries to understand his mother’s depression and to adjust to their new location. He discovers that his new school conforms to strict fashion and behavioral styles. Marcus dresses unfashionably and has a habit of drifting off and singing out loud. Although he tries to avoid bullies, he is not successful. In addition, Marcus worries increasingly about his mother’s signs of mental illness.

Will Freeman, according to a magazine quiz he has taken, has a “coolness” rating of subzero. His philosophy is to avoid clutter, whether of possessions or of personal responsibilities. Will receives royalties for his father’s only hit song, “Santa’s Super Sleigh,” allowing him to avoid work and providing him with time for fantasies of volunteering. Although he never actually volunteers for a cause, Will finds a new philanthropic endeavor: He becomes involved with Angie, a beautiful single mother. For Will, it is a perfect relationship. The attractive single mother adores him for not being her previous husband and for listening attentively, and she ends the relationship herself just when Will is wondering how to break up and still be considered a nice guy.

To meet more single mothers, Will invents a two-year-old son, Ned, and a former wife, Paula, and attends a meeting of SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together). Will meets Suzie, Fiona’s best friend, at the meeting and is invited to a SPAT picnic with Suzie, Marcus, and Suzie’s daughter. Bringing Marcus home, they find that Fiona has attempted suicide. While Marcus is in a living nightmare, Will is fascinated by the drama and Marcus’s sudden fear that his mother will make another attempt to kill herself.

This encounter provokes one of Will’s periodic resolutions to help others, and he offers to spend time with Marcus. After Fiona’s suicide attempt, Marcus decides that, although he may not need a father, he and his mother are not safe alone. As a result, Marcus accepts Will’s offer on the condition that Fiona can accompany them. Marcus hopes that Will and his mother will get together. Will, a dedicated materialist, and Fiona, an antiestablishment hippie, talk to each other but have no interest in each other romantically. The outing ends, to Will’s horror, in a sing-along to Joni Mitchell that causes Will to rethink his volunteerism.

Marcus shows up at Will’s apartment one afternoon and invites himself in. Although Will is dubious about what become Marcus’s recurring visits to watch Countdown, a television quiz show, he fits them into his routine. At one point, Will sees how much Marcus is bullied at school and resolves to help him. Fiona does not approve of Marcus spending time with Will, but Marcus refuses to stop seeing him. Will resists involvement, but his and Marcus’s relationship becomes stronger and is furthered when Will tangentially helps Marcus find two fifteen-year-old...

(The entire section is 1232 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

With About a Boy, Hornby moved into more ambitious territory. While High Fidelity was to some extent autobiographical, About a Boy expands the focus beyond the adult obsessive to examine adolescence along with arrested development. While at times less convincing than High Fidelity, About a Boy finds Hornby experimenting more with both tone and characterization.

The novel focuses upon two characters, Will and Marcus, and their improbable friendship. Will is the heir to a fortune, having inherited the publishing rights to a popular Christmas song. Will has never had to work, and prefers to spend his days listening to music, watching television, using drugs, dating, and driving around London. Will’s leisure has allowed him to be “cool” by the standards of men’s magazines; he goes to the right clubs, wears the right clothes, and listens to the right music. Marcus, by contrast, is a twelve-year-old boy who does not fit in at school. His parents are separated, and Marcus lives with his mother, Fiona, a depressive who does not care much about fashion or modern music. Marcus never wears the right clothes and knows nothing about the right music, making him an easy target for bullies.

The two protagonists meet when Will, for purely selfish reasons, becomes interested in dating single mothers and joins a group for single parents, pretending to have a son. Through the group he meets Suzie, a friend of Fiona’s, with whom he starts a relationship. When Suzie, at Fiona’s request, brings Marcus to a picnic that Will attends, the two are introduced. Initially the relationship is characterized by mutual dislike; Will thinks Marcus is strange and Marcus thinks Will is self-absorbed and...

(The entire section is 713 words.)