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How to Be Good (2001)

by Nick Hornby

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,349107959 (3.15)92
According to her own complex moral calculations, Katie Carr has earned her affair. She's a doctor, after all, and doctors are decent people, and on top of that, her husband David is the self-styled angriest man in Holloway. But when David suddenly becomes good Katie's sums no longer add up, and she asks herself some very hard questions.… (more)
  1. 10
    This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes (ellengryphon)
    ellengryphon: Opposite sides of the same mid-life crisis coin, both books are witty, imaginative while raising those big, capital 'Q' life questions. Ironically Hornby does a great job of giving voice to a bewildered, soul-searching woman while Holmes brilliantly pens her book in the male voice. I highly recommend both -- fun reads with some depth.… (more)

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» See also 92 mentions

English (100)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  French (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (107)
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
The voice is pitch perfect. So easy to read, I snapped this up in three days. Funny, canny, with entertaining presentation of some ugly truths about the nuclear family.

::Spoilers start here::
Katie is going to sleep at a friend's apartment and thinking about why she wants to step away, have a time out from being David's wife. "That's all there is left, when you take away working hours and family suppers and family breakfasts: the time I get on my own is the time I would have spent being a wife, rather than being a mother or a doctor. (And God, how frightening, that those are the only options available. The only times when I am not performing one of those three roles is when I am in the bathroom.)"

I liked how Katie has moved to some self knowledge by the end of the book. She knows that she wants to be with her family, including her husband. She knows that it's important that they function and support each other as a family and not invite various acquaintances into that intimacy. She knows that she needs to read and take in art in order to nourish her mind. She's fairly clear that she will choose middle class complacency and the easy path rather than engaging with every issue that comes past. But she's still ignorant of her own values beyond these items. I thought the last line of the book was an atonal clash with what was a satisfying falling together at the end. But I grant that Katie has not widened her consciousness very far and has not done wrestling with her selfish ness and her vanity about being "good". So the blankness she sees beyond her family makes sense. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Of the ones I've read, this is his most annoying. ( )
  irrelephant | Feb 21, 2021 |
Sort of the same feeling that I got from 'A Long Way Down'. Great first half, then watering down a bit, floating between 3 and 4. I suppose it was less the case in this one, so I went for 4. As always with Nick Hornby the dialogue and characters are very lifelike and amusing and his observations spot on.

At some points the book drags a bit, and the inclusion of the faith healer fellow (or whatever kind of healer he is), is a bit alien in a Hornby book, but I just imagined him as the annoying hippie from Futurama, and all was well. Overall a nice Hornby read, which I didn't really expect, going into it with the low Goodreads rating in the back of my mind.

The book provides some interesting musings on what it is to "be good". Not in a complex religious or philosophical way, really, just Hornby-style, the thing i love most in his books: wittily observed, crystal clear, yet complex in its simplicity. I scratch my head and mutter: 'heh yeah, true', that's the feeling I get all the time with Hornby.
I reckon the biggest difference with other Hornby books is not that it's the only one written completely from a female perspective, but that it's damn depressing.
Yeah, sure, Hornby tends to take you on mental trips down misery lane, but at least he's there next to you, saying: 'Yeah, it all sucks, doesn't it? I've been there mate. It's alright, though, I'm here for you. Here, grab a beer, puff away on this joint. Life's a bitch, buddy, but check out this new record I bought.'

Not this time, though. This book is very bleak and offers very little hope. It's basically a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' kind of thing. But I guess that's a head scratching truth as well.


PS: I can't believe it took me like a month to finish this anorexic book. I really need to up my reading rhythm. I'm a slow, easily distracted reader, so I really need to be reading a lot (gymnastics for the mind) to maintain a decent book reading speed. Maybe it was because I grabbed this to cheer myself up, and that's why I couldn't read too much of it in one sitting, because in the cheer up department this book does not deliver. In fact, it just confirmed that being sad all the time is the only good option.

But an even more important fact is that the fact that I bought a laptop and can now access non-top internets with the stretch of an arm, which is seriously imposing on bedtime reading, where I do most of my reading. SO, I need to dedicate more time to reading and withstand the webs, unless I get severely constipated and have hours to read on the can. Go reading! ( )
  superpeer | Feb 1, 2021 |
Hornby tries something ambitious here (a novel less plot driven, more interested in the big questions of existence) and it almost works. Accept there's only the bumpiest of roads for this plot to travel on and it loses its way a bit too much. It's hard to care about big issues when they don't seem really anchored to anything, when the fiction of this work of fiction seems unfinished at the expense of what this work of fiction wants us to think about.

( )
  Smokler | Jan 3, 2021 |
I was a little surprised at the poor reviews for this book, although I understand why some might be uncomfortable about the implications of the story, in which a middle-class liberal couple is confronted with the gap between their actions and their supposed values. Katie was not the most likeable of narrators, but each of the characters definitely had their way of getting under your skin, which I think was Hornby's intention. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Readers of ''High Fidelity'' will remember that Hornby wrapped up that sharp tale of modern love with a disingenuously bright bow of a last scene. Here, the pattern's reversed, and 305 pages of treacle (cut, it must be said, with acid humor) build to a final paragraph bearing more truth about marriage and family than all that preceded it.
"How to Be Good" is partly a wry marital comedy about how a spouse's change of heart invariably destabilizes his longtime partner's own identity, but it's also a thorny parable about the dangers of complacent, conventional self-satisfaction. It's also a very funny and shrewd novel, like Hornby's others, full of acerbic observations about book-buying habits, the virtues of friends who don't really listen to what you say, the tactlessness of children, movies that all seem to "involve spacecraft or insects or noise" and the poisonous bitchiness of those dissatisfied souls who hover in the margins of the creative life.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Laura Miller (Jul 25, 2001)
A generation ago, Western society held an informal plebiscite to decide whether the common good would be better served by sane, decent people like Katie or lollapaloozas like GoodNews. The holy fools lost, and the vote wasn't close. It's anyone's guess why Hornby felt it was time for a recount.
added by stephmo | editNew York Times, Joe Queenan (Jul 1, 2001)
You might say that, by the end, the questions this engaging book opens are too big for the lives it describes; but then, as Katie concludes, aren't they always?
added by stephmo | editThe Observer, Tim Adams (May 27, 2001)
Hornby's prose is artful and effortless, his spiky wit as razored as a number-two cut. There are some delightful comic set-ups, and his dialogue sings with empathy for the discordant voices of ordinary, struggling humanity

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nick Hornbyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Øverås, LinnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chapman, IsabelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drechsler, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hellmann, HaraldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jesmin, RiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viviani, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika Goicoechea, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am in a car park in Leeds when I tell my husband I don't want to be married to him anymore.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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According to her own complex moral calculations, Katie Carr has earned her affair. She's a doctor, after all, and doctors are decent people, and on top of that, her husband David is the self-styled angriest man in Holloway. But when David suddenly becomes good Katie's sums no longer add up, and she asks herself some very hard questions.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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