Must’ve missed the first part

I just finished reading How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. The verdict is: I do recommend it if you have a weekend to kill on some light reading.

How to Be Good (as one would expect) tries to deliver an answer to that very question. And Hornby makes a number of insightfull observations about relationships, human nature and modern western socio-economic guilt (to name a few), and he does it in engaging prose with characters about whom (for the most part) I cared.

However, when it came down to it, the book didn’t deliver. The last sentence (actually, the last half of the last sentence) throws the reader spinning off into the void. Typical pop-modern ending. A nineties alternative song finishing on any chord but the resolution. Arty, don’t you know. This wouldn’t be such a let-down if the whole book wasn’t pointing in the other direction. Hornby was building toward a definite answer, and I was (for the most part) buying what he was selling. And at the last second, the product was switched for something that didn’t match the brochure. And it was a pretty decent brochure, so more’s the complaint.

In this I was reminded of The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (which I read in highschool and now feel as if I ought to read again). I remember loving that book as well up until the end, when the padre gives us the summary. And it doesn’t match. I thought Wilder must have missed the first three quarters of his own book.

Despite this major shortcoming, How to Be Good was, well, a good book. Not as good as High Fidelity and About a Boy (by the way, the movie version of the former is better than the book, the movie version of the latter is [insert-favored-british-vulgarity-here]), but good.


2 comments on “Must’ve missed the first part

  1. thelamp says:

    I am curious if that author considers himself to be an expert on being a good person. is a great place to find out.

  2. mr. Lamp (may i call you The?),

    to answer your question: i doubt it. mr. hornby was not talking about that kind of ‘good’ (though the question of redemption cannot ultimately, of course, be escaped). his book is a satiric novel (not a self-help book), primarily directed at the comfortable, upper-middle class liberal (free-tibet sticker on the back of the sporty new subaru: you know the type). the “answer” i was expecting (and which he did not deliver) was not a “to-do” list. something much more allusive than that.

    actually, i think the “answer” was there, the reader just has to be willing to sift through the confusion: shut out the ‘incorrect’ ending. much like wilder’s novella. or the movie AI. if you just stop it when the kid’s little submarine gets stuck under the ferris wheel, it’s a great film: the director told more truth up to that point than he knew what to do with. so of course he botched the ending.


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