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on 4 June 2001
This has been one of the most eagerly-awaited books of the year. Nick Hornby's excellent previous novels High Fidelity and About A Boy have left readers looking forward to another high-quality novel. The author's ability to translate apparently ordinary characters and situations into hilarious and observational fiction has been a trademark of his success. So all this only serves to make it more difficult to comprehend how Nick Hornby has now come up with such a lousy book.
The story sounds great - Katie Carr, the story's narrator, is unhappy with her marriage to David. She has become tired of his constantly angry moods. She has decided to end the marriage and she even begins an affair with another man. It is just at this moment that David decides to change his ways and become 'good'. And it's this 'good' word that becomes the theme for the rest of the story. Is Katie a good person? Has David now become a good person? What does it take to be a good person?
The opening two chapters of How To Be Good are pretty solid. There are the usual Hornby trademarks of funny observations and a good pace develops. But things start to go rocky from chapter three and continue to nose dive. A big problem with How To Be Good is that it is just plain ridiculous and annoying. David visits a spiritual healer by the name of GoodNews, to cure his backache. GoodNews then becomes an annoying feature for the rest of the book. He moves into the marital home and David becomes a convert. Before long, Katie has to watch whilst her husband and GoodNews embark on a number of 'good' campaigns, such as giving away their money and possessions. They even approach their neighbours in the expectation that they'll take in homeless people so they too can be good. And, naturally, their neighbours are just as keen to be saintly and so some agree to the idea.
Hornby writes okay from a woman's viewpoint and Katie should have been a truely likable character if she hadn't been allowed to fall into the category of doormat. The whole story is a circus of unconvincing and very unfunny events. GoodNews uses his mystical power to cure various ailments. David joins in with many 'good' deeds that are simply insane. Katie has to lie back and accept the fact that homeless and unstable people are going to be popping in and out of her home from now on, because doing so is a 'good' thing. Katie's two children, Tom and Molly, take sides with whoever is their favourite parent. To be fair, Tom adopts a realistic enough attitude and resents the entire 'let's all go mad' lifestyle. However, Molly is another character who behaves as only a fictional character ever could. Katie allows her daughter a level of authority within the home that is completely unrealistic.
There are some okay moments - flashes of wit that are undeniably Hornby-quality. But they're too brief and too rare. In summary, How To Be Good is a silly, unrealistic and mostly unfunny book and to have to say that about a Nick Hornby novel is unexpected.
A massive disappointment.
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on 3 July 2002
Seems to me Nick got a bit bored somewhere along the way in writing this book. Whilst it had all the trademarks of Hornby - plenty of outlooks on life today in Modern Britain, strong characters and some very amusing ones at that, I felt that the end (without giving it all away) it didn't build up to a crescendo, but more stumbled over a cliff. The story seemed to going somewhere and with all decent novels, you couldn't tell exactly where. However, Hornby just seemed to say "Oh sod this for a game of soldiers, I'm just packing it all in as I really can't be bothered any more."
Maybe all stories shouldn't have a happy ending, I can accept that...but this book limped over the finishing line rather than leaving you with a half decent conclusion.
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on 24 May 2002
I'm one of those people - guys mostly, I suspect - who found High Fidelity hugely entertaining and the follow-up soppy and pretentious. So, for me, How to be Good is just a case of "I told you so".
The book is a quick and painless read, for sure. It's quick mainly because once you get bored with the long-winded style, you start skimming through the endless sentences of unexciting and repetitive social commentary, hunting for the next bit of dialogue or any kind of internal or external action that would propel the story. ("It has been raining and raining and raining - it has been raining harder than anyone can remember." I kid you not. This is a sentence produced by the once-great Nick Hornby.)
To have a female protagonist is a clever idea, but while you're at it, why not make her interesting? As it is, the Katie character seems just an excuse for literary self-indulgence. You have a talkative female lead, so you're entitled to gigantic, rambling paragraphs, right? Wrong. What is boring and pointless in real life is boring and pointless on paper. I think a writer should seriously consider pressing the delete button when he has to insert a breathless "So anyway" into his prose to put a brake on runaway inner monologue. (And in case anyone thinks I just don't "get" it because I'm not from the right nationality or social group or postal district, well - I didn't need to be British to enjoy High Fidelity, did I?)
How to be Good is a painless read, too, and I don't think it should be. After all, it's supposed to tackle serious issues such as divorce, infidelity, unhappy children, and, of course, how to be good. Alas, I felt shortchanged. Hornby only skims the surface, retreating behind his funny-man mannerisms every time things start to get a little gloomy. For all his pretensions of being a serious author, he still can't write about sorrow and loss without trying to make it somehow more palatable for an imagined average reader. (In Hollywood, they call toned-down comedies like this "bitter-sweet".) Katie's suicidal brother, for example, has great potential as a character with real-life dimensions, yet he ends up being just a sketch like everyone else.
So, at best, this book is Intimacy Lite, with lots and lots and lots and lots of words pretending to be insights into the human condition ("Getting married and having a family is like emigrating" - that kind of stuff), yet, obviously, with none of Kureishi's wit.
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on 15 June 2002
I tried very hard but could not find a trace of the humour promised in the write up.
After fifty pages I thought "maybe he's a slow starter".
After about a hundred it was plain that the story was simple and unrealistic and the characters equally lacking. I plodded on to the end but did not find any improvement, I'm afraid Mr. Hornby's sense of humour does not appeal to mine.
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on 12 July 2001
I really, really wanted to like this book. In fact I paid over twelve quid for the hardback and must say it is a dire and ghastly read, but great for those who have trouble sleeping or like me were suffering from jet-lag. I guarantee that ten pages of this and you will sleep like a baby. You see there is no plot to speak of and the characters are not even irritating enough to be slappable, they're just plain dull and I don't care what happens to them. I'm sorry Nick but I'm afraid I'm going along with the majority on this page...
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on 4 December 2001
This book started off at a good pace and did throughout make me laugh. But the subject matter didn't really develop, and i ended up with little empathy for the characters...
Marriage is frequently dull, boring, monotonous and hard work after living with the same person for twenty years. Tell me somthing i don't know...
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on 1 August 2001
I'm unsure of how to review this book, a witty comedy that fails to be witty, a deep meaningful book that challenges the reader but falls short, or a novel without any redeeming characters?
I urge other readers to read Fever Pitch and High Fidelity - which are both polished gems, but to avoid this one.
Can I suggest to Mr Hornby that he returns to his strength - writing about the male psyche and not to churn out another trite novel.
The only GoodNews? It is only 244 pages long.
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on 4 July 2001
I really wanted to love this book too, or at least like it! I was so looking forward to reading it, and it was such a disappointment! It was as if it wasn't Hornby writing at all, completely different from his other books and to be honest fairly depressing. There wasn't enough wit to lighten the mundane and miserable subject of a marriage on the point of break down, nothing really happened, so no action and I never really cared about any of the characters. I almost committed the sin of not finishing it, but made myself, I don't know why I bothered! I think I was hoping against the odds that it would get better!I see the good in most books, but if I had to choose one word to sum it up I would say "BORING".
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on 30 June 2001
I am aware that the very act of reading involves a certain suspension of disbelief, but the characters in Nick Hornby's 'How to be Good' were totally unconvincing to me. The protagonist Katie is clearly muddled about 'goodness' and sprituality, fair enough, but there seems to be no attempt from the author to try to make sense of it either. Perhaps he's just saying 'hey, I'm confused about it all as well'. The big themes are never really addressed, the disappointments of materialism, GoodNew's healing powers, the desperation of a family falling apart. David's conversion is unbelievable and his relapse merely convenient to the plot. I was so looking forward to this book, Hornby is my favourite writer. It's not just because it's not about football or music as some reviewers argue, you cannot blame Hornby for wanting to address wider themes - the other books weren't really about football and music either, they were about people you cared about, defined by realistic details and events in their lives. Totally presumptious of me, I know, but I just got the feeling that the author didn't really believe in these people in 'How to be Good'either.
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on 2 August 2001
I'm afraid I found How to be Good very disappointing - was Nick Hornby on the third of a three book deal? The central character was 1 dimensional and uninteresting, the plot was thin, and the whole thing was extremely dull. In the end it just petered out, with no conclusion or resolution for any of the characters.
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