Friday, May 27, 2011

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby

I came into this book knowing that it seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" books for Nick Hornby fans, and as it was only the second novel of his I'd read, I was a bit worried.  I actually skipped over it at the book store many times for this reason.  In a happy turn of events, however, I ended up loving it.  The narrator is a girl--which is always a little strange coming from a male author, but it worked for me.

I can see why some people aren't thrilled with this book.  In many ways it is an oddball, so if you head in thinking you'll be meeting another version of High Fidelity, you'll be in for a surprise (although High Fidelity does have a cameo appearance in this book, which was also surprising).  While there is plenty of humor, it is a quieter, more introspective flavor of humor.  And honestly?  The subject matter does venture into the land of the ridiculous at points, so if you have a difficult time finding relevance in the bizarre, this book may be a stretch for you.

Mostly, I just liked what this book said about marriage and long-term relationships.  When I got married (at an unbelievably young age) I had quite a few friends and family that had very outspoken opinions about the fact that at [barely] 18, I couldn't possibly know who I was or what I wanted out of life...and certainly not enough to make a huge life decision such as marriage.  And they were right: people do go through massive changes in their twenties, and may come out as completely different people than they used to be...perhaps as someone you may not even like.  But you know what?  Those changes keep happening throughout life, and if you aren't ready to change and roll with the punches, then it won't matter what age you are when you deal with them.

The couple in How to Be Good is dealing with exactly that issue: when you've each changed, when you aren't even sure you like each other, how (and why) do you make things work?  Some of the situations they are dealing with are not your normal problems, but by stretching normality into an extremely silly shape, it is easier to see the big picture.  Nick Hornby did a great job at talking about deep things in a fairly lighthearted manner, and succeeded in making me want to go out for a curry the entire time I read it.  Mmm...curry.

My favorite quote (from page 138):
It seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don't need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity.  You just have to love someone.

Title: How to Be Good
Author: Nick Hornby
Pages: 320
Published: 2002 Riverhead Trade (orig. 2001)
My Rating: 4.5


  1. I really enjoyed this one too. I thought the female narrator was very effective and I think it did have a lot to say about long-term relationships. I didn't realise it was such a love/hate book for Hornby fans.

  2. I'm glad you liked it! The bloggers I've seen mention the book seem to have very polarized opinions on it, although I'm not sure how much of that was simply a matter of unmet expectations. It was different than High Fidelity. Makes me want to read more...maybe I'll read Fever Pitch next time around. :)

  3. I'm glad you liked it. I'm in the "love it" camp. I guess it's very un-Hornby like, but I remember thinking I hadn't read anything in a long time that was truer about the nature of marriage and relationships.

  4. Robyn, I thought about you when I read it...your positive comments about the book made me much more willing to read it when a friend lent it to me. :)


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