How to be good, eerh, I mean, bad

Posted on: 5 January 2009

“Some light reading for my brother – check”, is what Xander thought when he grabbed the Nick Hornby novel from the table at the Viennese Barnes and Nobles. “Slow temperature meat cooking”- sis in law likes innovative cooking, right? Check. Why his wife always complained about the difficulty of giftgiving, he marvelled. Nice price, too – and look, even comes with a thermometer!

Sis in law does not like to cook meat and brother dear does not read – except for climbing blogs. But aw, that’s nitpicking details, isn’t it?

I like my brother in law, too. That’s how I ended up reading “how to be good”. Nice reason to scold him at the breakfast table – whaddayamean, nice reading? A quick glance at Amazon.com will teach you even Hornby fans have a hard time finding goodies in this production. But hey, a name sells, right? And he was due his next title, his publisher had been pushing him for months now. What are you gonna do if you have to earn a living writing? Can’t all be pearls.

Up to page 82, it’s just depressed reading about this wife and mom, bored, fed up, empty, getting ready for divorce. Especially for a young wife and mom like myself.

Then a spark of hope flames: for the story and the future of mankind. A healer is presented with all the skepticism needed to be convincing – for someone who is but too eager to be convinced, like yours truly.

But the roughness of the main male character shines through in this supposedly subtle, enlightened person, too. How can a true healer, someone with love in their heart, wreck such havoc in this family? Leeching of them because of his lack of self. How misguided was Nick when he wrote that – mistaking love for forsaking of self.

It’s all downhill from there. The only way to be good – how stereotypical, and unimaginative – is to give to the poor, and help those in need. Can we possibly imagine anything less creative? Less subtle? Haven’t we been around that block and shamefully back, time and again, ever since the crusades? On that note – well done to Ben Sombogaart for Crusade in jeans which we saw on TV last saturday. But how to be good now, hasn’t that been done infinitely better by, say Catherine Ryan Hyde in Pay it Forward?

I can only imagine Hornby writing this under pressure of his publisher – been given a title and good luck to you. Deadline in two months. He must have been every bit as defiant of writing this as the teenager boy was to be in it. The only character arousing any amount of sympathy.

The novel ends sullenly in an unchanged the status quo, none the wiser, except the wife/mom who comes to the conclusion she needs some Me Time (ie reading time). The hope guru DJ GoodNews brought was shortlived.

So Nick: please try again? After showing us how not to be good, there’s ample opportunity for a retry… ; )

PS and could you cut the monologue interieur back to, say, a tenth of what you’ve done here, adding action and dialogue as replacements? This was such a slow read, I kept wanting to be done…


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