An Analysis of the Life and Writings of Nick Hornby

Suicidal Football Nipples

Who hasn’t thought about jumping off a giant tower and killing themselves after watching their favorite football team lose to a picture of nipples that make a collage of Jesus? This sounds confusing, but picking apart an author like Nick Hornby can be just as confusing as it is fun. If you don’t search for his influences and ask yourself, “Why would he write this?” Then you truly aren’t a Hornby fan…and Hornby knows all about fans.

Hornby has written a wide range of short stories, screen plays, novels, and essays. His intriguing infatuation with the struggles that everyday people go through in their heads comes to life on all of his pages, as a “normal” person transforms into an “abnormal” and unlikely protagonist. Some of his stories you can’t help but to wonder where they’re going and it’s admirable and unique that not all of his ends are “happy endings”.

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As a reader you’re easily drawn into all of his characters, making the thought of the author himself fade into the background. However, Nick incorporates his presence in every single one of his works, metaphorically, figuratively, and literally, making him anything but a ghost.

Born in Redhill in the United Kingdom, Hornby uses occasional English slang, and readers can’t help but to read Nick’s bright dialogue in an English accent in their heads. Although his stories stem from the greater parts of the U.K., his likeable, raw, and down to earth characters are people that anyone from anywhere can relate to.

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In his novel A Long Way Down, a book about a bunch of strangers that coincidentally meet at the same time to jump off a tower and kill themselves, Hornby describes to John Mullan of “The Guardian”, the setting of this inspiration:

I grew up not far from Archway Bridge, in north London, which attracts jumpers with a terrible frequency, and have often thought about the people who choose to end their lives there; shortly after I’d driven under it, I heard something on Radio 4 about how suicide rates spike on certain dates of the year – Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day in particular. If you were thinking of killing yourself, could you conceivably bump into someone else thinking of doing the same thing at a well-known suicide spot on those nights? And could any such meeting alter the outcome? (Mullan)

After considering “how people think when they’re suicidal”, Hornby is roused to write not just about one character’s thoughts in A Long Way Down, but four. Each character in the story relates back to a time in their lives before they wanted to kill themselves, and the events that led to their decision to jump off the tower. These reflections of each character’s past relates to Hornby’s reflection of his own past and childhood. This is the author’s way of placing a piece of his own personal history into a fictional novel.

Step back into childhood for a moment- the memories, the good times, the bad, and the instances where everything seemed perfect, until it wasn’t. Much like the feelings fans have when their home team wins or loses a big game, Hornby incorporates his own life experiences in conjunction with his passion for football (aka soccer), and all of the excitement and disappointment that comes with it, in his first non-fiction story, Fever Pitch.

When Hornby was young, his father took him to games played by the Arsenal Football Club (A.F.C. or “Arsenal”). Hornby’s father was trying to help his son escape the serious situation that he left Nick’s mother for another woman. Like any good parent, Nick’s father took him to every A.F.C. game whenever possible, and like any good boy, Nick became enamored. Fever Pitch is a true story book about Hornby’s adolescence and how he escapes reality and channels his repressed emotions through his obsession with A.F.C games. Nick adventures through his life with his friend “Rat” and attends every Arsenal game possible, even after his father moves away and Nick lives with his mother. Nick writes about the moment he realizes he’s got an unhealthy obsession with football and A.F.C. when he watches a replay on the big screen at an away game and sees a cutaway of himself on the sidelines, solemn and enthralled, not excited and happy like the other surrounding children. In an article by Wendy Parker titled “The Psychology of a Sports Fan”, she takes a pivotal excerpt from Hornby himself, written in Fever Pitch:

The simple truth is that obsessions just aren’t funny, and that “obsessives” don’t laugh. But there’s a complicated truth here as well: I don’t think I was very happy, and the problem with being a thirteen-year-old depressive is that when the rest of life is so uproarious, which it invariably is, there is no suitable context for the gloom. …

I just didn’t want to have fun at football. I had fun everywhere else, and I was sick of it. What I needed more than anything was a place where unfocused unhappiness could thrive, where I could be still and worry and mope; I had the blues, and when I watched my team I could unwrap them and let them breathe a little. (Parker)

Importantly, he writes about the moment he moves to North Bank when he’s fifteen, and meets his first girlfriend, Carol. Hornby describes Carol by saying,

She was, I thought, beautiful, with the long, straight, centre-parted hair and the melting doe eyes of Olivia Newton-John; her beauty had reduced me to nervous and miserable silence for much of the duration of our relationship, and it was no real surprise when she moved on to a boy called Daz, a year older than me, after just about one month. (Hornby, “Fever Pitch” 83)

This is an important part because it helps the reader relate in a way by understanding that Nick is capable of having feelings for more than just football. This short excerpt proves that obsessions have their breaking point, and that people have a capacity to express emotions towards not just one thing, but several.

In essence, Fever Pitch is like a real life journey of the hero. Although Nick never mentions himself as a typical hero, he does go on an awkward and self identifying odyssey, from dealing with his parents divorce to trying to escape his anti-social school life, and overcoming the crisis age old question of “What am I meant to do with my life?” His enticement with football is a call to adventure, exploring something he knows nothing about (the unknown), with initial hope of bonding with his father during Arsenal games. The unpredictability of the outcome in games of his beloved team poses as an anxious and action packed climactic scene, in which Nick is immersed in a sea of events that are scary, motivating, and inspirational. Hornby’s incorporation of his personal life in relation to the game draws outs obstacles that he perseveres through by never giving up on his team, no matter what. The losses cause anger, heartbreak, and turmoil, ironically around the same time that Nick is angry and heartbroken, himself, from his breakups with girlfriends to the continued absence of his father. The enemy or “bad guys” in this nonfiction novel will always remain as the opposing team. Nick’s call back to home is when he starts to realize he needs to grow up and cannot prioritize football over everything else in his life. He watches his few close friends develop a career and get married, and comes to the bold conclusion within this sort of mid-life crisis that he is meant to be a writer and wants to pursue his dreams. This book is more than just about obsessing over football.

There are some odd works that weren’t as popular with Nick’s fans as his bigger hits like A Long Way Down, Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity. Nipple Jesus is the story of a bouncer, Dave, who seeks employment as a security guard at an art museum, thinking it will be a much safer and less hectic. This story was written in an anthology titled Speaking with the Angel. Simply put the story is narrated by Dave who wants a more daytime job and becomes the guardian of a controversial piece of artwork in a gallery. The piece is a tall and wide collage of little photographs of women’s nipples that make a larger picture of Jesus Christ. As the reader is drawn to the title alone, they learn that Dave has more intellectual capacity than he initially appears. In the beginning, Dave doesn’t understand nor like the picture, and by the end, he loves it so much that he guards it with his life and judges others who disregard it. Like all of Nick Hornby’s stories, the main character clings on to something they believe to be extraordinary and develops an unhealthy obsession to the point of heartache and disappointment. This short story, while entertaining, covers religion, sex, and politics all rolled into one.

Hornby’s “spiritual” influence behind writing this story comes with his sheer curiosity of people’s religious views on what Jesus Christ should look like. Although Nick is a devout atheist, he sometimes juggles with the fascination of how religion impacts people so strongly and wonders why or how they came to be that way. The point of NippleJesus was to open peoples minds that “Jesus can be seen everywhere” (even in a bunch of nipples), and that it shouldn’t be blasphemous or beautiful, it should just “be”. By the end of the story, Nick incorporates his atheist attitude through the character, Dave. Dave discovers that the point of the picture wasn’t about Jesus at all, but it was to provoke a reaction, and the artist had a hidden camera nearby to tape the chaotic reaction to uproarious onlookers. As soon as Dave falls in love with the idea of “Nipple Jesus”, he lets his guard down, and someone comes in and destroys it. This makes Dave feel shameful for “letting someone ruin a beautiful piece of work,” but when he finds out that the artist’s point was just to provoke people and promote herself, his sadness and disappointment turns into a shrug and an “oh well” type demeanor, and he goes out and gets a drink. Nick dedicated the anthology to his autistic son, and for each book sold, a donation was made to his son’s charity, “Tree House Trust”, a national autism charity. Perhaps by doing this for his son and vulnerably opening up his personal life, Hornby wanted to break the stigma about atheists, by saying “just because you don’t believe in a god, doesn’t mean you have no moral code or no heart.” (Hornby, “NippleJesus” 125)

Behind every story is another story. Behind all of Hornby’s stories is a man who has turned his experiences of childhood to adulthood, love, laughter, heartbreak, obsession, depression, family struggles, and spirituality, and created several inspiring fictional and nonfiction pieces of work. Nick Hornby is anything but unnoticeable in his books, and if you read up, over, sideways, and between the lines, his whole life shines in all of them.


Works Cited

  1. Hornby, Nick. Fever Pitch. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.
  2. —, “NippleJesus.” Speaking with the Angel. London, England. Riverhead Books, 2001. Print.
  3. Mullan, John. “Suicidal Thoughts.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 19 May 2006. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
  4. Parker, Wendy. “The Psychology of Sports Fans and the Influence of ‘Fever Pitch”” Sports Biblio-The Athletic Experience in Books, History and Culture. 2016 Sports Biblio, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Word Count: 1,868

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An Analysis of the Life and Writings of Nick Hornby. (2021, Oct 10). Retrieved from

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