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Pearson Education ESL
About a Boy, Level 4, Penguin Active Readers

About a Boy, Level 4, Penguin Active Readers

by Nick Hornby
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Nick Hornby’s cult fiction debut, the New York Times Notable High Fidelity, was a national bestseller in the United States, and a #1 bestseller in England. Hornby was greeted with standing ovations from The New Yorker (Hornby has established himself as a maestro of the male confessional) to Time (Hornby demonstrates his enviable talent for lucid, laconic writing) to The New York Times Book Review (Hornby captures the loneliness and childishness of adult life with such precision and wit that you’ll find yourself nodding and smiling) to GQ (funny, compulsive, and contemporary). About a Boy stars a guy called Will, who doesn’t really want any children. He wonders why it bothers people that he lives so happily alone in his fashionable, Lego-free flat, with massive speakers, and an expensive cream-colored rug that no kid has ever thrown up on. Then Will meets Angie. He has never been out with a mom before. And it has to be said that Angie’s long blond hair and big blue eyes, are not irrelevant to his sudden reassessment of his attitude toward children. She is truly beautiful. And truly beautiful women do not, traditionally, go out with him. Then it dawns on Will that maybe Angie goes out with him because of the children. Maybe children democratized beautiful, single women.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781405884501
Publisher: Pearson Education ESL
Publication date: 11/10/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 92
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

April 17, 1957

Place of Birth:

Redhill, Surrey, England


Jesus College, Cambridge University

Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from About a Boy

Chapter 2

How cool was Will Lightman? This cool: he had slept with a woman he didn't know very well in the last three months (five points). He had spent more than three hundred pounds on a jacket (five points). He had spent more than twenty pounds on a haircut (five points) (How was it possible to spend less than twenty pounds on a haircut in 1993?). He owned more than five hip-hop albums (five points). He had taken Ecstasy (five points), but in a club and not merely at home as a sociological exercise (five bonus points). He intended to vote Labour at the next general election (five points). He earned more than forty thousand pounds a year (five points), and he didn't have to work very hard for it (five points, and he awarded himself an extra five points for not having to work at all for it). He had eaten in a restaurant that served polenta and shaved parmesan (five points). He had never used a flavoured condom (five points), he had sold his Bruce Springsteen albums (five points), and he had both grown a goatee (five points) and shaved it off again (five points). The bad news was that he hadn't ever had sex with someone whose photo had appeared on the style page of a newspaper or magazine (minus two), and he did still think, if he was honest (and if Will had anything approaching an ethical belief, it was that lying about yourself in questionnaires was utterly wrong), that owning a fast car was likely to impress women. Even so, that gave him...sixty-six! He was, according to the questionnaire, sub-zero! He was dry ice! He was Frosty the Snowman! He would die of hypothermia!

Will didn't know how seriously you were supposed to take these questionnaire things, but he couldn't afford to think about it; being men's-magazine cool was as close as he had ever come to an achievement, and moments like this were to be treasured. Sub-zero! You couldn't get much cooler than sub-zero! He closed the magazine and put it on to a pile of similar magazines that he kept in the bathroom. He didn't save them all, because he bought too many for that, but he wouldn't be throwing this one out in a hurry.

Will wondered sometimes -- not very often, because historical speculation wasn't something he indulged in very often -- how people like him would have survived sixty years ago. ("People like him" was, he knew, something of a specialized grouping; in fact, there couldn't have been anyone like him sixty years ago, because sixty years ago no adult could have had a father who had made his money in quite the same way. So when he thought about people like him, he didn't mean people exactly like him, he just meant people who didn't really do anything all day, and didn't want to do anything much, either.) Sixty years ago, all the things Will relied on to get him through the day simply didn't exist: there was no daytime TV, there were no videos, there were no glossy magazines and therefore no questionnaires and, though there were probably record shops, the kind of music he listened to hadn't even been invented yet. (Right now he was listening to Nirvana and Snoop Doggy Dog, and you couldn't have found too much that sounded like them in 1933.) Which would have left books. Books! He would have had to get a job, almost definitely, because he would have gone round the twist otherwise.

Now, though, it was easy. There was almost too much to do. You didn't have to have a life of your own anymore; you could just peek over the fence at other people's lives, as lived in newspapers and EastEnders and films and exquisitely sad jazz or tough rap songs. The twenty-year-old Will would have been surprised and perhaps disappointed to learn that he would reach the age of thirty-six without finding a life for himself, but the thirty-six-year-old Will wasn't particularly unhappy about it; there was less clutter this way.

Clutter! Will's friend John's house was full of it. John and Christine had two children -- the second had been born the previous week, and Will had been summoned to look at it -- and their place was, Will couldn't help thinking, a disgrace. Pieces of brightly-coloured plastic all over the floor, videotapes out of their cases near the TV set, the white throw over the sofa looked as if it had been used as a piece of gigantic toilet paper, although Will preferred to think that the stains were chocolate...How could people live like this?

Christine came in holding the new baby while John was in the kitchen making him a cup of tea. "This is Imogen," she said.

"Oh," said Will. "Right." What was he supposed to say next? He knew there was something, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what it was. "She's..." No. It had gone. He concentrated his conversational efforts on Christine. "How are you, anyway, Chris?"

"Oh, you know. A bit washed out."

"Been burning the candle at both ends?"

"No. Just had a baby."

"Oh. Right." Everything came back to the sodding baby. "That would make you pretty tired, I guess." He'd deliberately waited a week so that he wouldn't have to talk about this sort of thing, but it hadn't done him any good. They were talking about it anyway.

John came in with a tray and three mugs of tea.

"Barney's gone to his grandma's today," he said, for no reason at all that Will could see.

"How is Barney?" Barney was two, that was how Barney was, and therefore of no interest to anyone apart from his parents, but, again, for reasons he would never fathom, some comment seemed to be required of him.

"He's fine, thanks," said John. "He's a right little devil at the moment, mind you, and he's not too sure what to make of Imogen, but...he's lovely."

Will had met Barney before, and knew for a fact he wasn't lovely, so he chose to ignore the non sequitur.

"What about you, anyway, Will?"

"I'm fine, thanks."

"Any desire for a family of your own yet?"

I would rather eat one of Barney's dirty diapers, he thought. "Not yet," he said.

"You are a worry to us," said Christine.

"I'm OK as I am, thanks."

"Maybe," said Christine smugly. These two were beginning to make him feel physically ill. It was bad enough that they had children in the first place; why did they then wish to compound the original error by encouraging their friends to do the same? For some years now Will had been convinced that it was possible to get through life without having to make yourself unhappy in the way that John and Christine were making themselves unhappy (and he was sure they were unhappy, even if they had achieved some peculiar, brainwashed state that prevented them from recognizing their own unhappiness). You needed money, sure -- the only reason for having children, as far as Will could see, was so they could look after you when you were old and useless and skint -- but he had money, which meant that he could avoid the clutter and the toilet-paper throws and the pathetic need to convince friends that they should be as miserable as you are.

John and Christine used to be OK, really. When Will had been going out with Jessica, the four of them used to go clubbing a couple of times a week. Jessica and Will split up when Jessica wanted to exchange the froth and frivolity for something more solid; Will had missed her, temporarily, but he would have missed the clubbing more. (He still saw her, sometimes, for a lunchtime pizza, and she would show him pictures of her children, and tell him he was wasting his life, and he didn't know what it was like, and he would tell her how lucky he was he didn't know what it was like, and she would tell him he couldn't handle it anyway, and he would tell her that he had no intention of finding out one way or the other; then they would sit in silence and glare at each other.) Now that John and Christine had taken the Jessica route to oblivion, he had no use for them whatsoever. He didn't want to meet Imogen, or know how Barney was, and he didn't want to hear about Christine's tiredness, and there wasn't anything else to them anymore. He wouldn't be bothering with them again.

"We were wondering," said John, "whether you'd like to be Imogen's godfather?'' The two of them sat there with an expectant smile on their faces, as if he were about to leap to his feet, burst into tears and wrestle them to the carpet in a euphoric embrace. Will laughed nervously.

"Godfather? Church and things? Birthday presents? Adoption if you're killed in an air crash?"


"You're kidding."

"We've always thought you have hidden depths," said John.

"Ah, but you see I haven't. I am this shallow."

They were still smiling. They weren't getting it.

"Listen. I'm touched that you asked. But I can't think of anything worse. Seriously. It's just not my sort of thing."

He didn't stay much longer.

A couple of weeks later Will met Angie and became a temporary stepfather for the first time. Maybe if he had swallowed his pride and his hatred of children and the family and domesticity and monogamy and early nights, he could have saved himself an awful lot of trouble.

Copyright © 1998 by Nick Hornby

Table of Contents

In 1995 Nick Hornby's debut novel was published in the United States to rave reviews, and it was a bestseller in both England and the U.S. The New York Times Book Review wrote, "High Fidelity fills you with the same sensation you get from hearing a debut record album that has more charm and verve and depth than anything you can recall." Hornby has now written his second novel, and the prepublication buzz is unlike that of any other book this year. A lengthy excerpt from About a Boy recently appeared in the Christmas Fiction Issue of The New Yorker, and the movie rights to the novel were bought by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Films for more than $3 million.

About a Boy centers around Will Freeman, a London bachelor in his late 30s who really doesn't want any children. He wonders why it bothers people so much that he lives so happily alone in his fashionable, Lego-free flat, with its massive speakers, hardwood floors, and an expensive cream-colored rug that nobody has ever thrown up on. He is a happy bachelor, and all things appear to be good in his life, according to his standards.

Then Will meets Angie. He has never been out with anybody who was a mom before. Angie is truly beautiful. And it has been said that truly beautiful women don't date Will. Suddenly it dawns on him: He can date truly beautiful women with kids who not only want to date him but are enthusiastic about dating him. Then comes the crowning moment, the breakup. Angie breaks up with him, and it is not because of something horrible he has done (which has always been the case in the past); rather it's because of her "situation." Will discovers that beautiful women with children are just happy to be with a "nice" guy, and the clincher is that they break up with him. Thus begins Nick Hornby's funny, compulsive, and contemporary new novel about sex, manliness...and fatherhood.


On Thursday, May 21st, welcomed Nick Hornby to discuss ABOUT A BOY.

Moderator: Welcome, Nick Hornby! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Nick Hornby: I am fine, thanks! I have just flown in from New York and am a bit jet-lagged. Thanks!

Vicky from Dayton, OH: I just finished ABOUT A BOY yesterday and must say I was pleasantly surprised. I am a bookseller and read quite a few new (read: "undiscovered") authors. The book was hilarious and touching without being overly sentimental. It's one I will recommend to customers. Besides being a bookseller, I am also a writer. Can you tell me a little about your writing process? You know, the daily ins and outs of it. I need some inspiration to help me along on the book I just started.

Nick Hornby: I am probably not the person to inspire you. I am lucky enough now to have a writing flat, so I walk from home around the corner and go to a place just for work. I am there from 10:00 to 6:00 every day; quite often I disappear at 11:00 in the morning and go to a record store. I am a real "mess arounder." Quite often I don't do proper work until 4:00. I rewrite a lot as I go along, so the first draft I have is usually not in bad shape. Usually....

Laura from Boston, MA: I'm very excited that you'll be coming to Boston, although, I think I may be your only female fan here (hee hee). How much of yourself do you write in your stories? I know you probably hear this question all the time: Your male characters are always the ones in need of growing up, whereas the women are the more stabilizing of the two. Is that how you view relationships?

Nick Hornby: I think that is true of HIGH FIDELITY. I definitely wanted to write about the male character in the book needing to move on, so the female characters were in direct contrast to his plight. This new book, I think, for example, Fiona is not as sorted out as the other women characters have been. I think as my writing career goes on, you will end up finding as many immature females as males. I am looking forward to seeing you in Boston.

Ian from La Jolla, CA: I must compliment you on an accurate description of the "guy mentality." But the result of HIGH FIDELITY was getting my girlfriend constantly asking me, "Is that how guys really think?" I haven't read ABOUT A BOY yet, but I can only imagine what type of reaction this will bring to my sweet Sharon....

Nick Hornby: It is interesting, but the response I have been getting to HIGH FIDELITY recently was more from women than from men, and a lot of them were saying, "I am Rob, that's me," which surprised me, but it has happened enough so I believe it. I think the gender distinctions are breaking down.

Marty from Boston, MA: I hear that Peter Hedges is writing the movie version of ABOUT A BOY. Is that true? I thought ABOUT A BOY was great, and I am a huge fan of Peter Hedges. How involved are you with the movie production? Have they slated an actor for the role of Will?

Nick Hornby: Yes, it is true that Peter is writing the movie. In fact, I met him for the first time yesterday in New York. We had lunch together, and then he came to the reading in the evening. I loved WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, and I am reading the new book now, and I couldn't be happier with the choice of writer. I think it is great, and I think he is great. He hasn't really got as far as a polished draft, so we haven't started casting. I am reasonably involved -- I am informed and I think if I was very unhappy about anything, they would listen. They have all been really nice so far.

Sharon Waters from San Francisco: Are you married? Do you want to go out with an attractive young female fan of yours?

Nick Hornby: Sharon, I will see you at the reading next week.

David from Statesboro, GA: I have read stories about how snobby the literary scene is in London and how much of the "scene" is determined not by the quality of the work, but rather by who you know. Do you find this to be true? Or are those days past?

Nick Hornby: I didn't know anybody when I started writing. I know more people now, but I can't say that knowing people or not knowing people has any effect one way or the other. I think the London literary scene can be very bitchy and backstabbing, but I don't think they can actually affect your career one way or another.

Marrisa from Dade County, FL: I really like the cover! Did you design the cover?

Nick Hornby: No. I really like it, too, but I haven't come across anyone yet who has designed his own cover. I have come across quite a few who want to kill the person who designed the cover. Luckily I am not in that position.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: Kind of a broad question, but I was wondering if you found a difference in the general reception of ABOUT A BOY in England versus here in the States? Do you find the countries to have a slightly different take on the book?

Nick Hornby: I think that the responses to my work in England are slightly different, partly because my first book, FEVER PITCH, which isn't that well-known here, was a big success at home. And because it was a nonfiction book about soccer, it is like everything since has come in that context. I get much more of the "guy stuff," and I get blamed for all sorts of things, like "hooliganism," making football fashionable among middle-class people. In the States, it is much more as if I have only written two books, both of which are novels, and as a consequence, I get treated more as a novelist and less as some kind of weird cultural phenomenon. Also I think that American reviewers are much more used to the very simple and accessible writing that I aim for. In Britain, you tend to have to write with much more opacity if you want to be treated really seriously.

Heide from Reading, PA: Hi, Nick. I loved what you did with the screenplay for "Fever Pitch." Any plans to do screenplays of your newer works?

Nick Hornby: HIGH FIDELITY and ABOUT A BOY have both been bought by American studios, but I am not writing the screenplays. I loved doing "Fever Pitch," but I decided that I didn't want to spend my life adapting stuff I had finished while I was having ideas for other things. But I am writing a couple of original screenplays at the moment.

Karen from Chicago, IL: I've heard a rumor that HIGH FIDELITY will be made into a movie. But the British locations are being changed and Americanized. Will they change the name of Rob and Laura because of the strong association with "The Dick Van Dyke Show"?

Nick Hornby: Not as far as I know. It is funny, but I had completely forgotten Dick Van Dyke when I chose their names, and quite a few Americans have asked me if it was deliberate. It wasn't, I can assure you.

Rick from Middleton, NJ: Were you at all reluctant to write about a character like Will?

Nick Hornby: I think when you are writing about a character who is in many ways very unsympathetic, you of course run a risk of alienating a readership. That is one of the reasons I chose to tell the story from Marcus's point of view as well, and using the alternate chapter structure, but I do think that Will's character is really rescued by his klutziness. He tries to be bad. But he is actually pretty incompetent, which I think gives the readers a way in. There was some debate during the editing process about how bad he should be, and he probably ended up slightly worse as a result of my editor's suggestions.

Sarah from East Village, NY: How long did it take you to write ABOUT A BOY? Have you been working on it since HIGH FIDELITY?

Nick Hornby: Pretty much since then. It took me about 18 months, all in all. But I had a false start. I didn't like what I had done at the beginning and I threw away a big chunk, right before I came to the U.S. in September '96. When I came back from that tour, I knew what I wanted to do with the characters and started again, and that part took me around nine to ten months.

Teddy from NYC: I read a copy of ABOUT A BOY about a month ago, but it was the UK version, which had a different cover. I was wondering how different the U.S. version of the book is. Do you Americanize your books? Do you make any changes from the UK version to the U.S. version?

Nick Hornby: There have been some changes, some of them straightforward vocabulary changes. "Diapers" for "nappies" and so on. And with both HIGH FIDELITY and ABOUT A BOY, there have been some cultural reference changes. For example, in the UK, at one point Marcus watches an Australian soap opera called "Neighbors," which just about every kid in Britain watches, but in the U.S. that became "Saved by the Bell." I quite like doing that, because I do think hard about the pop-culture references, and I would like them to have the same effect in the U.S. wherever possible.

Harris Feldman from Chicago, Illinois: Do you think Arsenal have a good chance to win the Champions' League next year?

Nick Hornby: How come it took nearly 40 minutes for somebody to ask me an Arsenal question? They are really, really, strong at the moment. This is definitely the best Arsenal team in my lifetime. But I do think English clubs are at a disadvantage because of the number of games they have to play. I would be very happy if we made the finals or even the semifinals.

Denise from BellSouth: How extensive is your book tour? How many cities will you go to and in what amount of time? Are you coming to Florida?

Nick Hornby: No, I am not coming to Florida. I am going to 11 cities in three weeks. I am in L.A. until Sunday, then it's San Francisco. I am also visiting Seattle, Boulder, Chicago, Austin, and D.C. among others.

Margo from Plainfield, OH: Can we expect to see your work in any upcoming magazines?

Nick Hornby: Basically, no.... I used to do much more of the smaller stuff (short stories and articles), but over the last couple of years it has been very hard to do that. The books have been successful in several European countries as well as the U.S., which means that when you finish a book, you pretty well spend a year promoting it, by which time publishers or film producers are going crazy at me. So unfortunately, the smaller things are the first to go.

John from Who do you like in this year's World Cup? Do you have any thoughts on how the French are hogging the tickets and the rumors that many French are planning on striking and closing down the transportation routes across the English Channel?

Nick Hornby: I would like to say that an interesting, exciting new team will win the World Cup, but my bet is it will be the usual suspects, probably a Brazil/Germany final. It does appear as though the ticketing could be handled a lot better, although it seems to me that the basic problem is that millions want to go and there are only thousands of tickets available, and it is hard to blame the host country too much in those circumstances. Although, of course, the English will always do their best to blame the French for anything.

Ann from Minneapolis: Were you disappointed that the movie "Fever Pitch" never got an American distributor?

Nick Hornby: I was until it got one. It has a very small distribution field now, and will be shown in two or three cities some time in the next few months. I think that most U.S. distributors thought that the movie was impossible to market here. It is uncompromisingly British, but I still think there is a lot of stuff to enjoy in it from an American view.

Ann from Minneapolis: As an American, it is often hard to know what books are coming out in the UK and which are worth the hassle to try to get a hold of. Do you know any British authors who are currently writing who might be of interest to your readers?

Nick Hornby: One book that you must look out for is BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY by Helen Fielding, which will be published in the U.S. in the next couple of weeks. It is very funny -- in the UK there was a poster campaign which described the book as FEVER PITCH for girls, which indicates that we are kindred spirits. It has easily been the most popular book in Britain over the past year. Just about everybody in the world has read it.

Tim from New Jersey: Alexi Lalas was on AOL tonight doing a chat. Do you agree with me that he is an extremely overrated football player? Do you think rugby and football will always be tops in England and that baseball, basketball, and American football will always reign in popularity here in the U.S.?

Nick Hornby: I think Alexi Lalas's record in Europe speaks for itself. Enough said. Yes, I am sure that the sporting cultural divide will remain, although I read somewhere once that U.S. advertisers were becoming very frustrated that none of your sports are exportable and that if everyone in the U.S. played and watched soccer, it would make them a lot more money, which strikes me as a pretty good reason not to do it.

Emma from Strathom Common, UK: Do you ever see yourself leaving London?

Nick Hornby: No, I don't even see myself leaving North London. I have all sorts of reasons to stay. But one of the most compelling at the moment is my desire to write films, and I think for someone like me, the UK film industry with its small budgets and concentration on character and dialogue is a much happier environment than Hollywood. Also London has everything that I need as a writer. I am homesick. I would even like to be in Strathom.

Martin from Lawrenceville, NJ: Are you already at work on your next novel? Can you tell us about it?

Nick Hornby: I haven't started it yet, and I don't think I will be able to start until '99. I have an idea for it, but I don't want to say anything about it in case it collapses on me. That's often what happens with ideas -- you need to jump on them a few times to check that they can support your weight before you start work.

Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Nick Hornby. We have thoroughly enjoyed your responses to all of our questions, and we of course hope you will join us again with your next book. Do you have any last words for your online audience?

Nick Hornby: Thank you all for being so interesting. I really enjoyed it, and I hope to see some of you at some of the readings. If anyone wants to turn up at Book Soup here in L.A. in an hour, I would know that there would be some kind of audience.

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