How to Be Good is a story for our times-a humorous but uncompromising look at what it takes, in this day and age, to have the courage of our convictions. In his third novel, Nick Hornby, whom The New Yorker named "the maestro of the male confessional," has reinvented himself as Katie-the consummate liberal, urban mom-a doctor from North London whose world is being turned on its ear by the outrageous spiritual transformation of her husband, David. How to Be Good has the ironic, funny, startlingly accurate take on our modern selves and our modern world that has become Hornby's turf as a chronicler of our popular culture-but this time he tackles it all with more richness and depth, and carries his readers beyond the comic confines of the novel to a bigger truth about themselves. It's a story about how to wreck your marriage, how to help the homeless, how not to raise your kids, how to find religion . . . and how to be good.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Kate, a doctor, wife and mother, is in the midst of a difficult decision: whether to leave or stay with her bitter, sarcastic husband David (who proudly writes a local newspaper column called "The Angriest Man in Holloway"). The long-term marriage has gone stale, but is it worth uprooting the children and the comfortable lifestyle Then David meets a faith healer called Dr. Goodnews, and suddenly converts to an idealistic do-gooder: donating the children's computer to an orphanage, giving away the family's Sunday dinner to homeless people and inviting runaways to stay in the guest room (and convincing the neighbors to do likewise). Barber gives an outstanding performance as Kate, humorously conveying her mounting irritation at having her money and belongings donated to strangers, her guilt at not feeling more generous and her hilarious desire for revenge. Barber brilliantly portrays each eccentric character: hippie-ish Goodnews, crusading David, petulant children and, poignantly, the hesitant, halting Barmy Brian, a mentally deficient patient of Kate's who needs looking after. Barber's stellar performance turns a worthy novel into a must-listen event. Simultaneous release with Riverhead hardcover (Forecasts, June 25). (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 29, 2002
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Excerpt from How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
I am in a car park in Leeds when I tell my husband I don't want to be married to him anymore. David isn't even in the car park with me. He's at home, looking after the kids, and I have only called him to remind him that he should write a note for Molly's class teacher. The other bit just sort of...slips out. This is a mistake, obviously. Even though I am, apparently, and to my immense surprise, the kind of person who tells her husband that she doesn't want to be married to him anymore, I really didn't think that I was the kind of person to say so in a car park, on a mobile phone. That particular self-assessment will now have to be revised, clearly. I can describe myself as the kind of person who doesn't forget names, for example, because I have remembered names thousands of times and forgotten them only once or twice. But for the majority of people, marriage-ending conversations happen only once, if at all. If you choose to conduct yours on a mobile phone, in a Leeds car park, then you cannot really claim that it is unrepresentative, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't really claim that shooting presidents wasn't like him at all. Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs.
Later, in the hotel room, when I can't sleep and that is some sort of consolation, because even though I have turned into the woman who ends marriages in a car park, at least I have the decency to toss and turn afterward I retrace the conversation in my head, in as much detail as I can manage, trying to work out how we'd got from there (Molly's dental appointment) to here (imminent divorce) in three minutes. Ten, anyway. Which turns into an endless, three-in-the-morning brood about how we'd got from there (meeting at a college dance in 1976) to here (imminent divorce) in twenty-four years.
To tell you the truth, the second part of this self-reflection only takes so long because twenty-four years is a long time, and there are loads of bits that come unbidden into your head, little narrative details, that don't really have much to do with the story. If my thoughts about our marriage had been turned into a film, the critics would say that it was all padding, no plot, and that it could be summarized thus: two people meet, fall in love, have kids, start arguing, get fat and grumpy (him) and bored, desperate and grumpy (her), and split up. I wouldn't argue with the synopsis. We're nothing special.
The phone-call, though...I keep missing the link, the point where it turned from a relatively harmonious and genuinely banal chat about minor domestic arrangements into this cataclysmic, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moment. I can remember the beginning of it, almost word for word:
Him: "Hello. How's it going "
Me: "Yeah, fine. Kids all right "
Him: "Yeah. Molly's here watching TV, Tom's round at Jamie's."
Me: "I just phoned to say that you've got to write a note for Molly to take in to school tomorrow. About the dentist's."