Nick Hornby's How to Be Good was published in 2001 by Harcourt Press. The plot focuses on David Carr, who decides to become a man of virtue on the advice of his spiritual adviser named GoodNews. David’s choice prompts unwelcome responses from his family. His wife, Katie, is the narrator and becomes quite frustrated when David gives away the family’s Sunday meal. He also gives away his son’s computer.
The transformation of David is deeply upsetting to Katie. She has always taken the part of being the good one as a doctor, mother, and wife. She does not know how to handle this switch in roles and transformation in her husband.
Reviewers have criticized the book for being mirthless despite the potential for humorous material. Katie’s long narration upsets the pace and potential of the novel. Her dilemmas are understandable but her response with endless chatter is not welcome by many readers.
Katie is not without her own faults. Before David made his conversion she was having an affair and asked for a divorce. This event in their marriage followed year of the “other” David who was sarcastic and selfish. He wrote a column for the local paper called “Angriest Man in Holloway.” In the column, he aims his frustrations at restaurant critics, old people, grievance counselors, and homeopaths. David Carr is a bitter old man before his time.
As the tension grows with his new conversion to sainthood, David moves into the spare room. He visits people on their street to encourage them to invite homeless people into their homes. He ceases to continue with his current novel in favor of developing a new book with GoodNews called How to Be Good.
Eventually Katie moves out of the house and into a rented room, then she moves back. In a sense, Katie gets in David the person she wanted: someone as good as herself. She is forced, however, to re-examine her own “goodness." In the end, How to Be Good is a funny and clever novel filled with social observations that readers have come to expect from Hornby. The characters wrestle through their emotions and re-examine what they value and what is “good.” Readers are taken on this entertaining ride, and likely question these concepts for themselves, too.
Did this raise a question for you?