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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
How To Be Good: Press reviews
Cover of How to Be Good
Hornby uses a female narrator for the first time
Press reviews of How To Be Good, Nick Hornby's new novel.

The Times

It's a brilliant basis for a novel: a wicked tease. For most of its length it entertains superbly and provokes quite enough thought for its genre. The only problem is that it fizzles out. Since David has not become a Christian or embraced any coherent philosophy other than his amorphous, impulsive, New Agey idea of "goodness", he has nowhere to go.

The Guardian

How to Be Good creaks in all sorts of ways, but at the end, it does hold together. It is hard to dislike a writer who seems more perplexed than his readers, and is willing to share that sense of confusion and dismay. The earnestness, the drive towards overexplication in order to show that it's not just a gag, he's really thought about it properly, his faux-naivety that might be real - all of this is, luckily for him, both charming and affecting.

The Independent

Hornby's prose is artful and effortless, his spiky wit as razored as a number-two cut. There are some delightful comic set-ups, and his dialogue sings with empathy for the discordant voices of ordinary, struggling humanity. There is also a trickle of mid-life melancholy dampening the high spirits of How to Be Good. At one point Katie asks: "What are we going to do when we are both soul-dead?" There is no answer; Kate's final optimism is shadowed by doubt: "I catch a glimpse of the night sky and I can see that there is nothing out there at all".

The London Evening Standard

The book's best parts are those entirely unrelated to its big idea. Katie's more hapless patients are a delight - funny, affecting, and suurprising. Some of the comic set pieces are perfectly turned. But overall it does not read like a book by a novelist, so much as an idea of one, and after Hornby's third work of fiction, we are still waiting for the genius who wrote Fever Pitch. On page one, Katie reflects that: "Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs," and perhaps our mistake with Hornby has been to do that.

The Sunday Times

Hornby's masterstoke is to make Katie the narrator. True, she seems too like Hornby to be a wholly convincing woman, and his bid to graft accredited female attributes onto her - muddle, panic, bursting into tears when treated kindly - seems a bit forced. But these are minor matters compared to the strength which her scepticism, indignation and solid, down-to-earth selfishness lend to the novel's structure.

The Observer

When Katie observes that 'it seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don't need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone', she is, it feels, almost reciting an authorial manifesto. Everyone makes jokes about the self-absorbed hypocrises of Islington liberalism; only this writer has the wit and the stringency to take on this easy comedy and draw compelling, even universal pathos from it.

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