These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to Be Good

How to Be Good
by Nick Hornby
(3/5 stars)

In all honesty I didn't really want to read this book. I was looking for one of Hornby's better known books like "High Fidelity" or "About A Boy" that were made into Hollywood movies. Though I don't like the movie version of "High Fidelity" and I've never seen "About a Boy"--but the soundtrack is good. Anyway, the library only had "How to Be Good" so that's what I got.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating that a bad sign for a book is if you can put it down for days--or even weeks--and have no interest in picking it up. In this case I was separated from the book for three days and didn't miss it in the slightest. That's not to say it's a bad book, because it isn't, it's simply not a great book. It is simply "Good."

The story is about Katie Carr, a doctor (or GP in the British parlance) in the English suburb of Holloway. Katie's husband David writes a newspaper column "The Angriest Man in Holloway" where he rails against evil things like old ladies on buses. They have a ten-year-old son named Tom and an eight-year-old daughter named Molly. In all, the standard middle-class family. But all is not well. Katie is having an affair and toying with the idea of leaving David.

Everything changes when David goes to see a faith healer named DJ GoodNews about his ailing back. GoodNews cures far more than that. David has a sort of epiphany and becomes a caring, sensitive man, seemingly the perfect husband. So why isn't Katie happy? Because he's too good, what with his taking in the homeless and giving away possessions and so forth. But can David really save the world? And does Katie want him to?

What's good about "Good" is that unlike other existential books, it doesn't take the ultimate cop out of saying the journey or the question is more important than the answer. Not that it provides much in the way of answers either, because let's face it, if anyone could really tell you the meaning of life they wouldn't be wasting their time writing novels.

The novel is humorous, but mostly in that dry, British way that American readers might not find especially uproarious. At the same time the plight of the Carr family as they battle their liberal guilt raises serious issues that are true for most every suburbanite. Because really, what is being "good" in this materialistic Western society? Is it making a few charitable donations at Christmastime or do you have to go to extremes like David? In which case, how can you keep sane?

Still, as I said earlier, this wasn't a particularly compelling novel for me. The writing was sound and the story entertaining enough, but it's not exactly a page-turner either. I suppose other readers may have a different reaction, but I'd say this is a book you don't desperately need to read. It's just not good enough.

That is all.

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