- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books (April 30, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1573229326
- ISBN-13: 978-1573229326
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 308 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How to Be Good Paperback – April 30, 2002
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"Hornby is a writer who dares to be witty, intelligent and emotionally generous all at once."—The New York Times Book Review"
A darkly funny and thought-provoking ride."—USA Today
"A bitingly clever novel of ideas...[a] profound, worrying, hilarious, sophisticated, compulsive novel."—The Sunday Times (UK)
"Daringly different."—New York Daily News
"How to be good? How to be bloody marvelous more like."—The Mail on Sunday(UK)
"Breezily hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time."—New York Magazine
"Seriousness spiked with humor...a page-turner."—The Washington Times
"A thorny parable...very funny and shrewd."—Salon.com
About the Author
Nick Hornby is the author of seven internationally bestselling novels (Funny Girl, High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to be Good, A Long Way Down, Slam and Juliet, Naked) and several works of non-fiction including Fever Pitch, Songbook and Ten Years In The Tub. He has written screenplay adaptions of Lynn Barber’s An Education, nominated for an Academy Award, Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. He lives in London.
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For reference, I tend to like literary novels more so than purely plot driven, under-developed character novels. To me, How to be Good seems to fall in the middle of that spectrum.
So what is it? A hilarious hoot? Nah- more likely it is a rigorous spiritual analysis of contemporary western society. Dr. Kathy Carr, wife, mother, professional person, takes a lover. She has become disaffected from her stay-at-home husband, a cross between Homer Simpson and Rush Limbaugh, with none of their charm or humor. On the surface, their family seems solid enough, but there is something missing. HTBG depicts their attempts to find out just what is missing and to learn to deal with it.
I used the term "spiritual" to describe Hornby's work because, in every sense, the crises his characters face are produced by society's relative excess and individuals' relative narcissism. The combination of the two produces the loss of meaning and the inevitable depression that Viktor Frankl predicted in Man's Search for Meaning. Hornby tries to show some of the comic elements of the struggle, elements that anyone over forty can appreciate, albeit, at times, painfully. Enter the faith healer, GoodNews, a homeless person who received revelation and supernatural powers after dropping Ecstasy at a party. Thirty-two years old and from obscure origins, GoodNews, whose self-chosen name derives from the meaning of the word Gospel, is kind of a Christ-on-Ecstasy-figure. GoodNews sees how sadness pollutes us, making us sick. He has a supernatural ability to remove this sadness, converting the believer into a new, better person. His hope is to multiply that effect in order to create better families and communities. Not everyone buys his message of generosity and selflessness. As a consequence, with his magic comes division--within families and the larger community. This division can be internalized with in the individual (in the form of guilt), as the still imperfect individual struggles with the challenge of being good in an imperfect world. Moreover, the individual can puff up goodness and selflessness in order punish those with whom he is annoyed, making it a form of vanity.
In this version of the gospel story, Christ/GoodNews is not God Incarnate. He is very, very human, sometimes laughably so. His assembly of believers falls short of the promises for which they hoped, just as has Christendom, which it lightly parallels. Today's church, the community of mainstream believers--in this case, the Church of England--is presented as a fossilized institution, not a particularly attractive alternative to the charismatic charm and power of GoodNews and his disciples, however flawed the latter is. The C of E's adherents, even its leaders, have very little hope of anything and attend out of a sense of duty, a hope of being validated without being challenged.
GoodNews' characters' Road to Damascus epiphany experience, falls a little short. They are not born again, nor do they become completely new people, despite the attractiveness that a clean slate offers. They still seek answers from themselves and from other humans. The answers they get are frequently lack the voltage to get them through the lonely, sad, and empty lives they face. It's as if they are asking for data when what they need is power.
The book is the story of Katie Carr, a doctor who is disillusioned with both marriage and parenthood. Her husband has a rather snide streak, but when he undergoes a personality change, she learns to long for her old husband. He has gone from selfish and self-absorbed to extremely selfless, the result of an encounter with a strange New Age healer called GoodNews.
The husband's conversion makes him even harder to live with and forces Katie and her children to reexamine their own values.
Although a generally comic novel, there are definite bits of seriousness also. Katie is a distinctly flawed character, and while you often sympathize with her ordeal, other times she is completely unsympathetic (as even she realizes). Her husband is an interesting character as he remains equally distant from his wife no matter what his approach to life is. And GoodNews is more complex than a simple charlatan, if he even is somehow a fake.
The story does drag in places as Katie seems to spin her wheels a lot, takes little action and can't even decide what to do next. Overall, however, this is a fun and insightful novel and I look forward to the next Hornby book I read.