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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  • First Published:
    Jul 2001, 320 pages
    Apr 2002, 320 pages

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Print Excerpt

"How are you?"

"Fuck off."

I sighed, right into the mouthpiece of the phone, so that he could hear what I was doing; I had to move the mobile away from my ear and toward my mouth, which robbed the moment of its spontaneity, but I know through experience that my mobile isn't good on nonverbal nuance.

"Jesus Christ! What was that?"

"It was a sigh."

"Sounds like you're on top of a mountain."

We said nothing for a while. He was in a North London kitchen saying nothing, and I was in a car park in Leeds saying nothing, and I was suddenly and sickeningly struck by how well I knew this silence, the shape and the feel of it, all of its spiky little corners. (And of course it's not really silence at all. You can hear the expletive-ridden chatter of your own anger, the blood that pounds in your ears, and on this occasion, the sound of a Fiat Uno reversing into a parking space next to yours.) The truth is, there was no link between domestic inquiry and the decision to divorce. That's why I can't find it. I think what happened was, I just launched in.

"I'm so tired of this, David."

"Of what?"

"This. Rowing all the time. The silences. The bad atmosphere. All this . . . poison."

"Oh. That." Delivered as if the venom had somehow dripped into our marriage through a leaking roof, and he'd been meaning to fix it. "Yeah, well. Too late now."

I took a deep breath, for my benefit rather than his, so the phone stayed on my ear this time. "Maybe not."

"What does that mean?"

"Do you really want to live the rest of your life like this?"

"No, of course not. Are you suggesting an alternative?"

"Yes, I suppose I am."

"Would you care to tell me what it is?"

"You know what it is."

"Of course I do. But I want you to be the first one to mention it."

And by this stage I really didn't care.

"Do you want a divorce?"

"I want it on record that it wasn't me who said it."


"You not me."

"Me not you. Come on, David. I'm trying to talk about a sad, grown-up thing, and you still want to score points."

"So I can tell everyone you asked for a divorce. Out of the blue."

"Oh, it's completely out of the blue, isn't it? I mean, there's been no sign of this, has there, because we've been so blissfully happy. And is that what you're interested in doing? Telling everyone? Is that the point of it, for you?"

"I'm getting straight on the phone as soon as we've finished. I want to spin my version before you can spin your version."

"OK, well I'll just stay on the phone, then."

And then, sick of myself and him and everything else that went with either of us, I did the opposite, and hung up. Which is how come I have ended up tossing and turning in a Leeds hotel room trying to retrace my conversational steps, occasionally swearing with the frustration of not being able to sleep, turning the light and the TV on and off, and generally making my lover's life a misery. Oh, I suppose he should go into the film synopsis somewhere. They got married, he got fat and grumpy, she got desperate and grumpy, she took a lover.

Listen: I'm not a bad person. I'm a doctor. One of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor was that I thought it would be a good--as in Good, rather than exciting or well paid or glamorous--thing to do. I liked how it sounded: "I want to be a doctor," "I'm training to be a doctor," "I'm a GP in a small North London practice." I thought it made me seem just right--professional, kind of brainy, not too flashy, respectable, mature, caring. You think doctors don't care about how things look, because they're doctors? Of course we do. Anyway. I'm a good person, a doctor, and I'm lying in a hotel bed with a man I don't really know very well called Stephen, and I've just asked my husband for a divorce.

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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