Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HOW TO BE GOOD by Nick Hornby Kirkus Star


by Nick Hornby

Pub Date: July 9th, 2001
ISBN: 1-57322-193-7
Publisher: Riverhead

Another delightful comedy from Hornby (High Fidelity, 1995, etc.), this one about a woman whose plans to divorce her crabby husband are sidetracked by his sudden, if loony, embrace of saintliness.

Though the 72-hour metamorphosis is a bit of a stretch, no matter: this hilarious romp entirely justifies the wise reader’s agreement to play along. Narrator Katie Carr, a 40-something doctor in England’s National Health Service, finds herself disenchanted with her marriage and in the midst of an affair. Husband David, a newspaper columnist known as “the Angriest Man in Holloway,” is insufferably cynical and absorbed by his public spleen-spitting. Katie feels forgotten. She confides the affair and suggests a divorce; David instructs her to tell their two children during his three-day absence; she dithers, and when David returns he apologizes for not loving her properly. It seems he has begun receiving “treatments” from DJ GoodNews, whose impeccably beneficent persona persuades David to embrace the love in the world and nourish it as he can. The divorce is called off, and DJ and David begin tackling the problem of homeless children in Holloway by persuading neighbors to take individual kids for a year or so. Soon, a homeless boy named Monkey is eating at the Carr table, and David is giving away his children’s prized toys. Thus begins a series of several remarkable schemes rendered with an entertaining mix of humor and delicately suggestive questioning. Hasn’t Katie, a doctor who helps the afflicted, always been the good one after all? Just what does it mean to be “good”? Hornby’s quick eye and nimble observational style nail everyone's vanity, but they all come in for their moment of insight as well.

By the close, the engaging Carr family is restored whole, even as it realizes—and as the author reminds us with his characteristic sprightly fatalism—that they still inhabit an empty universe.