“Just Like You” treads familiar fictional territory — a supposedly incompatible couple fall headlong in love and prolong their relationship despite their adversities — but Hornby’s trademark wit and keen observations are in full force, bringing to the emotional landscape an interesting perspective that’s distinctly his own.
Joseph is a Black man in his early 20s. He’s drifting through early adulthood, not quite certain of where life is headed, but working hard to keep his dream of making it as a DJ afloat by coaching football, babysitting, and working in a north London butcher’s shop. Lucy is a customer at said butcher’s. She’s in her early 40s, separated from her husband Paul, their love unequivocally extinguished, and she’s wondering “what next?” Neither Lucy or Joseph would necessary choose each other as their romantic partners upon first glance — unspoken factors such as age, race, class and politics prohibit such a coupling, according to societal “norms” — but something sparks between them, which matures into more than just a fling, and they are determined to see it through to its conclusion. Which is the question at the heart of “Just Like You” — what does their future hold?
The novel is fairly conventional insofar as its plot. It desires profundity from its exploration of themes; of 2016 Britain as the Brexit vote loomed; of subtle racism concealed in the fabric of society, alongside overt intolerance; of ageism and dating. Hornby is a fine, insightful writer. “Just Like You” can be unravelled and exploited for conversation at book clubs. But it’s a tad understated. I never quite bought into the chemistry between Lucy and Joseph; I accepted their relationship because the plot demanded it. There’s no will-they-won’t-they-tension; I wasn’t particularly worried when their romance hit obligatory road bumps. I was never totally invested in them emotionally. At times they read more like pieces on a chessboard, there for Hornby to manipulate into circumstances to provoke discussion, to poke at hot-button issues.
What Hornby has to say about his characters is interesting; the character themselves less so. Ultimately “Just Like You” is comfortably entertaining and affecting; gently pulling on your heartstrings rather than tugging at them; amusing rather than uproariously funny. An easy recommendation despite it feeling like Hornby could’ve gone up one extra gear to make this truly special.
Published: 15 September 2020
Format: Trade Paperback