I was familiar was Nick Hornby’s writing style since we had studied About A Boy as part of our English GCSE and I had really enjoyed his wit, so I was more than prepared to give How To Be Good a go. I knew I would finish this in no time, given that it was fairly short and I was reading it on holiday so I could give it my undivided attention.
What I quite liked from the start was that, even though the narrative was written from the perspective of Katie, it was obvious that we weren’t supposed to necessarily like her. This is different to many books that I have read, where the reader is supposed to take the side of the narrator. Having said this, however, despite disliking her, I think it was impossible to not identify with her at least a little bit- she admitted that she actively tried to shape her life so that she looked like a good person, she recognised that she wasn’t essentially good. Everything she does, her job as a GP, her efforts to raise her children as well as possible, her worries about social issues, are all in order to make herself look like a good person. Yet she still commits an inexcusable deed: adultery. It is the fact that Katie’s character is a little more complex and not black-and-white good or bad like so many fictional mother figures that I appreciated so much.
I also found Katie’s children rather charming characters. Hornby succeeds in showing that children are simply a product of their parents, and will adopt a mixture of each of their traits, for better and for worse. Hornby manages to capture the way children simply speak their minds, often leaving parents with no idea how to respond, which added to the overall comedy of How To Be Good, reminding me somewhat of the children in the BBC sitcom Outnumbered.
Additionally, the general comedy of the attempted transition of a middle class family living in the London suburbs, heavily influenced by consumerist culture into a socially aware, selfless and giving family, due to GoodNews did keep me wanting to read more. I was curious to see whether Katie could really be transformed into a different person in the way that her husband had.
However, on the subject of GoodNews, I did find his character a little strange. It was obvious that he was supposed to serve a type of purpose, or to deliver a specific message, but I couldn’t quite figure out what this message was suppose to be, other than ‘be a good person’, which is probably a little simplistic considering Hornby’s evident talent.
With all considered, I would say that Hornby’s How To Be Good is not for everyone. If you enjoy books where lots happens and situations change noticeably then it probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you don’t mind having to put up with a couple of things that don’t quite sit comfortably, just so that you can appreciate the skill of good writing, then you should definitely give it a go!