How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. Riverhead, 2002.
How to Be Good is Nick Hornby's third novel and his first to feature a female main character. Katie Carr is stuck in an unhappy marriage with an angry husband. Not angry in an abusive sense, but in a mad at the world sense. Her husband, David, is changed by an encounter with GoodNews, a self-named spiritual healer. He suddenly goes from being the Angriest Man in Holloway to a man bent on saving the world. Though Katie has wished for David to be less angry, his transformation does not improve their marriage. The title of the book has a double meaning. It is both the title of the book David and GoodNews start working on and what Katie has to learn.
All of Hornby's books up to this point are set in the Holloway neighborhood of London. For those who have followed him, you even get the brief reward of a mention of Dick from High Fidelity. In my last challenge update, I mentioned remembering that this is not my favorite Hornby novel. While I would still say this is the case, I enjoyed it more this time around. I think I was deceived the first time by some of the blurbs on the book calling it "hilarious." While there are some moments that elicited a giggle from me, I don't find it hilarious. The book is clever, but I think it has a distinctly forlorn quality. It's a book that makes you think about what it means to be good, which is a good thing. I just find it a little sad that Katie can't find her way out of this unhappy situation. Even David, who thinks he has learned how to be good, begins to have doubts about what he is doing.
If you're a Hornby fan, I certainly wouldn't deter you from reading How to Be Good, but don't expect the same clearly positive growth of High Fidelity or About a Boy. How to Be Good represents a clear shift in Hornby's writing. This novel leaves you questioning. Thinking about what it means to be good isn't a bad idea, but don't expect Hornby to give you a tidy solution.
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How to Be Good