How to Be Good

photo-4This book is depressing for a fluffy beach read. I laughed out loud, but overall I found it kind of miserable. Nick Hornby takes on the perspective of a middle aged woman who after a long erosion of her marriage has an affair with a schmuck. I respect that the affair was not glamorized into something steamy or fun, and came across as what most real life affairs seen from a distance appear to be: sad. She is a doctor and has always used this to internally pat herself on the back for being “good”, but to also rationalize her other choices which are not.

The point of view resonated with me a teensy bit. Having mental health non-profit jobs where I work with populations of people who have experienced trauma I always give myself a little gold star for doing something that matters while simultaneously excusing myself from donating to charities. Because, c’mon, I work for a non-profit. I’m always precariously on the edge of qualifying for public donations myself. Still, I do not waste my proof of good personhood on secret wrongdoings, but instead to flash around at parties or wear like a badge when meeting people!

Obnoxious? Sure, but it could be worse. I’d rate my totally warranted self-congratulatory behavior somewhere between teachers and Greenpeace canvassers.


Despite this common ground I generally found Hornby’s female perspective unconvincing, though I am far removed from the protagonist’s phase of life so maybe it’s me.

I’m in a place where marriage seems to be a wonderfully appealing challenge I look forward to, and reading several hundred pages about an affair and a will they/won’t they divorce culminating in staying together due to simple inertia was… tiresome; despite the humor speckled in.

Further, the oddity of the spiritual healer named “GoodNews” moving in to the family home followed by the homeless boy named “Monkey” did little to quirk up the story into a lighter mood.  The husband is a miserable, angry man who after a questionable conversion at the hands of “GoodNews” becomes just as unbearable through his quest for absolute charity and niceties as he was in his endless diatribe of grievances. This couple’s children also cultivate sour dispositions as the events unfold, as you can imagine.

The writing itself is fast-paced, making this book feel like a good beach read, but again, the story line of miserable people trying to learn “how to be good” is just kind of awful. They’d do well to instead focus on learning boundaries, and moderation, pillars of mental health people!

Not a great introduction to Nick Hornby, but I’m going to give him another try (because I already bought some of his other books).

One star.


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