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A page turner...
on March 17, 2003
I was told that I would not be able to put down "How To Be Good," and it delivered -- I set aside most of my weekend chores to find out what became of the characters. The premise, although fanciful, was intriguing, because it seeks to answer a question many of us struggle with: how do you know for sure you're a good person? Katie Carr, the novel's protagonist, is struggling with that question, and with her disappointment in her domestic life. Married for 20 years and basically miserable, she is engaging in a half-hearted affair and considering divorce when her husband goes through an uncharacteristic spiritual conversion, changing the course of their future.
Although the characters are stock (especially the couple's two children, who seem faceless they are so bland), the writing shines when it examines the guilt that accompanies the middle class lifestyle, and the desire to do something to assuage it. Although some of the symbolism is a bit obvious (the New Age guru who guides their spiritual change is named GoodNews), the inner conflict of the characters rings true.
Like his two previous novels, Hornby is taking his protagonist on a journey from sniveling immaturity to greater depth. It differs from "High Fidelity" and "About A Boy", though, in its conclusions, which seem vague. Katie doesn't seem any happier at the end of this journey than she was to begin with; and some of the final thougths seem tacked on arbitrarily, including the silly final image, which doesn't satisfy. Maybe Katie is simply a selfish malcontent, like an older version of Will from "About A Boy". Although I'm all for readers drawing their own conclusions, something felt left out of the last chapter, as if Hornby needs to live a few more years before he decides what he thinks about all of this.