I don’t think that Brits are the funniest people on earth. I’m sure they have their own special brand of humor that might be quite something in some cultures but theirs is not one I would consider truly universal, in the same way that Jim Carrey’s appeal and funniness is, at least on a generally accepted level. It’s probably too whimsical to even link the comic potentials of British comic writers and American hammy actor-comedians. Where Jim Carrey puts a face on his comedy, Nick Hornby puts famous bands in his, which is tougher.
Nick Hornby can be really funny but also gratingly wholesome sometimes. There is also never a shortage of cool people on his novels and this is perhaps what makes him such an easy breezy read and also a fluke. His characters are too cool that you never feel that much need to hold your breath and wait til the last few pages and see whether the Big Problem will get resolved because they will. But since most of the characters are cool, there’s not much need of resolving either and that’s mostly fine.
The single 30-year old cool dude in About a Boy, everyone in High Fidelity, heck, even the suicidals in A Long Way Down. In one of his more recent books, Slam, the population is not much different. Here you see the teenage boy, Sam deal with teenage fatherhood which may seem big but it’s really not. Sam, whose cool posse includes a 30-something mom who names pop celebrities whose ages she uses to gauge whether she’s too old or too young to undertake something such as grandmotherhood (‘I’m the same age as Jennifer Aniston but I’m about to become a grandmother!’, etc), a cool dad, a likable enough boyfriend of the young mom, and the feisty, hot girlfriend who Megan Fox can play in the movie version, is so cool he sounds almost exactly like Holden Caulfield, the cherry on top of the coolness whatever. NOT that Holden Caulfield is ever universally accepted as cool or even loose.
Reading Nick Hornby, you either wish you’re one of his boys or you’re chums with them because they’re these lovable sort of outcasts who have a very fine sense of what it feels like to be an adolescent boy, whether you can actually identify with all the Briticisms or not. They’re always just the right amount of snark and charm and their taste in music and girls is almost always topnotch. It becomes problematic though as they tend to become interchangeable, differing only with their respective quirks. Sam of Slam for example talks to a Tony Hawk poster. Okay…
I get the impression sometimes that Hornby tries to wring out all the humor that could be squeezed out of all the jokes that his super hip characters throw at each other but in here, he lays off the funny antics at pivotal matter-of-the-heart moments and exchanges comedy for heartwarming, tender and, dare I say it, realistic conversations without coming off too touchy-feely. Nick Hornby’s people are, after all, usually a wisecracking bunch. But Hornby, for all his indubitable snarkiness, for all the rapid fire succession of witty banters that can get on your nerves sometimes, eventually lets the heartfelt moments play out for what they are and that’s when he succeeds the most as a novelist with a very huge and often obtrusive funny bone but with a much bigger heart.