Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby

Posted by lea at 1:34 PM
Nat got this book for me from a second-hand bookstore. It’s still got the original English bookstore sticker on it and I really liked the fact that it obviously came from the country of the author’s birth (perhaps the left-behind item of a British backpacker). Either that, or the fact that I love Hornby’s other books, particularly High Fidelity and About A Boy, raised my expectations beyond the reach of this book.

It’s the story of Katie Carr, a doctor (her career is a very important fact, repeated throughout the novel until you sigh whenever you read: ‘I’m a good person, a doctor’) whose marriage is in jeopardy. She has an affair, which turns out not to be a deal-breaker as her husband, a cynical and sarcastic man who's made a career out of being angry, suddenly finds spirituality (not of the religious sort) with his spiritual guru, GoodNews, who so became via a club experience with ecstasy. Sound weird? It is. And never quite fully explained.

Overall it's a fairly bleak narrative of daily life in an unhappy marriage, punctuated with moments of clarity and revelation, followed immediately by the tedium of her ‘I’m a good person, a doctor’ outburst, always a justification for some perceived wrong she’s committed. I think Hornby is attempting to highlight the guilt we sometimes feel living in our three-bedroom homes with double incomes while being increasingly aware, through the media or other means, of the injustices and plights faced by people less well-off than we are. It’s about trying to ‘be good’ in a world where commercialism and selfishness is almost a necessary evil just to get through the day without going mad.

For me, he never quite struck the right note, and toward the end it seems as if Katie’s almost ready to accept (with some reluctance) her lot in life, with her new-improved husband and two growing children... then the last sentence of the book just kills it. You’re left wondering whether she’s going to commit suicide or something, because it ends on such a bleak note, with a stark realisation that no matter how she tries to improve things, it most likely will never change. Very abrupt and unnerving, the book ends like a greasy chinese meal with no tea to wash it down.

Sorry, bad analogy, but you know what I mean.
Rating: 6/10

Books I’ve been reading for ages and haven’t yet finished:

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Quite a thick book, our next book club book in fact, but I stopped halfway through having been traumatised by a torture scene. Very bleak but well written read.
Down Under by Bill Bryson
No reflection on the book or its author – it’s a fantastic read, but I have a real problem picking up non-fiction after putting it down once.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm re-reading this because I forgot the plot, but now I have no idea why I'm bothering because I lost interest in this series from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – it's pretty obvious by her writing that JK Rowling has lost interest too!

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