so i polished off nick hornby’s “how to be good” in the span of 3 days. it would have been alot sooner, but i stopped myself from devouring the whole book lest i have nothing to read on the return journey from singapore. i picked up the book for 10 bucks at a sale. it’s the one and only piece of hornby fiction i haven’t read, and i had no idea what it was about.
turns out it’s about me, or what could be me.
dr katie carr, a gp in a practice in north london, has just asked for a divorce. her husband, david, is a funny guy who happens to be very angry at everything and makes a living by writing a column called “the angriest man in holloway”. katie is jaded with her marriage, tired of David’s negativity and her two children who have outgrown their cuteness. she has an affair which she regrets, but while she works things out with her husband, he has a sort-of religious conversion after meeting a modern day prophet called D.J. GoodNews…
…and hilarity ensues. kind of.
what i love most about nick hornby’s novels is how painfully honest they are. i cannot begin to count how many times i gasped just because i knew exactly what he was getting on about. katie’s struggle with being a doctor, a good person, yet wanting to indulge in the selfish things we think we’re entitled to. material possessions. greener grass. comfort. ignorance about the hardships others face.
but most of all i was drawn by the way he presented the relationships in the story. there’s katie and david, who met in an ordinary circumstance and fell into the kind of comfortable love that lacks passion but still works enough to produce 2 children and a decade of faithfulness. katie and her children, who give her many reasons to feel guilty for slowly disliking them as they developed their own identities. katie and her lover, who is her chance at a clean slate and a weapon against her husband, whom she blames for her unhappiness.
it’s so real, so real that i felt rather unnerved by the way it reflects exactly how i envision my life to be if i ever got married and made it through my 10th year anniversary. probably not an affair, but the same thoughts katie had leading up to her sudden announcement of a divorce over the phone and the first night she spent with someone other than her husband.
the novel ends rather abruptly. there were hundreds of questions bouncing around in my head the first minute i put the book down, but after that came the realisation that that’s how it should be. a story about the life of a couple, a family, can never end in a tidy, “and they lived happily ever after” manner. that’s not how life works.
this is what reading does to me. it makes me want to write, however crappily, and i have never been happier. for the first time in a long while, i’ve returned from a vacation feeling completely rested and satisfied. i had my fill of good food and culture and music and people-watching over the weekend…and i am happy.
every doctor needs this, a time to binge on all the things we love outside medicine. for many, it’s lazing on the beach and getting some colour onto the ol’ chicken thighs. for me, it’s reading in the park, a flat white on the bench, while mothers whiz past on scooters with their kids and crazy people jog around the lake at 11am in a tropical country. it’s going to the waterfront and watching free dance performances while a cantopop band rehearses for their show that night. it’s fried squid heads and boozy icecream. it’s laughing with old friends.
i had everything and more last weekend, and it was sufficient for me to say that i don’t need to reexperience it to be happy. i’m glad to be back.