Excerpt from How To Be Good by Nick Hornby, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How To Be Good

By Nick Hornby

How To Be Good
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2001,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2002,
    320 pages.

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I'm torn between relief -- I've stepped back from the brink, the confession of no return -- and outrage. He doesn't think I've got the guts to do what I did last night! Worse than that, he doesn't think anyone would want to do it with me anyway! The relief wins out, of course. My cowardice is more powerful than his insult.

"So you're just going to ignore what I said yesterday."

"Yeah. Basically. Load of rubbish."

"Are you happy?"

"Oh, Jesus Christ."

There is a certain group of people who will respond to one of the most basic and pertinent of questions with a mild and impatient blasphemy; David is a devoted member of this group. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"I said what I said yesterday because I wasn't happy. And I don't think you are either."

" 'Course I'm not bloody happy. Idiotic question."

"Why not?"

"For all the usual bloody reasons."

"Which are?"

"My stupid wife just asked me for a divorce, for a start."

"The purpose of my question was to help you toward an understanding of why your stupid wife asked you for a divorce."

"What, you want a divorce because I'm not happy?"

"That's part of it."

"How very magnanimous of you."

"I'm not being magnanimous. I hate living with someone who's so unhappy."

"Tough."

"No. Not tough. I can do something about it. I cannot live with someone who's so unhappy. You're driving me up the wall."

"Do what the fuck you like."

And off he goes, with his sandwich, back to his satirical novel.

There are thirteen of us here in the surgery altogether, five GPs and then all the other staff that make the center work -- a manager, and nurses, and receptionists both full and part-time. I get on well with just about everyone, but my special friend is Becca, one of the other GPs. Becca and I lunch together when we can, and once a month we go out for a drink and a pizza, and she knows more about me than anyone else in the place. -We're very different, Becca and I. She's cheerfully cynical about our work and why we do it, and sees no difference between working in medicine and, say, advertising, and she thinks my moral self-satisfaction is hilarious. If we're not talking about work, though, then usually we talk about her. Oh, she always asks me about Tom and Molly and David, and I can usually provide some example of David's rudeness that amuses her, but there just seems to be more to say about her life, somehow. She sees things and does things, and her love life is sufficiently chaotic to provide narratives with time-consuming twists and turns in them. She's five years younger than me, and single since a drawn-out and painful breakup with her university sweetheart a couple of years back. Tonight she's agonizing about some guy she's seen three times in the last month: she doesn't think it's going anywhere, she's not sure whether they connect, although they connect in bed . . . Usually, I feel old but interested when she talks about this sort of thing -- flattered to be confided in, thrilled vicariously by all the breakups and comings together and flirtations, even vaguely envious of the acute loneliness Becca endures at periodic intervals, when there's nothing going on. It all seems indicative of the crackle of life, electrical activity in chambers of the heart that I closed off a long time ago. But tonight, I feel bored. Who cares? See him or don't see him, it doesn't make any difference to me. What are the stakes, after all? Now I, on the other hand, a married woman with a lover . . .

"Well, if you're not sure, why do you need to make a decision? Why don't you just rub along for a while?" I can hear the boredom in my voice, but she doesn't detect it. I don't get bored when I see Becca. That's not the arrangement.

Reprinted from How to be Good by Nick Hornby by permission of Riverhead, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2001 by Nick Hornby. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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