We all love a good story of how opposites attract. But what if it wasn’t just opposing personalities at play? Could you really have a relationship with someone from a different class, different culture, even a different generation?
In Nick Hornby’s latest novel Just Like You, the political becomes personal as Brexit plays out in the background. Lucy is a white, middle-class, divorced English teacher in her forties with two children, who’s clearly voting to remain in the EU. Joseph is twenty-two, black, works a number of odd jobs (DJ, babysitter, football coach, butcher, among others), and honestly couldn’t care less either way.
“When unhappy and dissatisfied people met somebody else and then somebody else and somebody else again, you could be forgiven for wondering whether the unhappiness and dissatisfaction were incurable.”
Most of the characters in Just Like You are patently unhappy, dealing with unsatisfactory marriages, messy divorces, and lackluster short-term flings. After a few chapters of will-they-won’t-they, Lucy and Joseph end up together, and are seemingly happy, for a time. They balance each other out in fundamental, if somewhat predictable ways—Lucy grounds Joseph and gives him a sense of purpose, and Joseph helps Lucy lighten up. Under the surface though, they both struggle to imagine a future when both their pasts and presents seem so incompatible. Even the little things—such as Lucy being too eager to hear Joseph’s music, which embarrasses him—become wedges in their relationship. Can two people who are so different really make it work? Is love enough to overcome differences in social, economic, and political standing? Hornby doesn’t provide a clear answer, but weaves a cautious optimism through Lucy and Joseph’s relationship.
“Maybe there was no future in it, but there was a present, and that’s what life consists of.”
It’s a refreshing take on the ‘us against the world’ trope, using Brexit as a divide. (As a side note, so much has happened since 2016 that the context of Brexit feels almost dated, even though it’s been barely five years.)
When Hornby is at his best (High Fidelity, About A Boy), characters and relationships are fully realized, and the whining and pining is enjoyable. Just Like You is a short, charming read that has some hints of that trademark style.