In the first installment of this series on great novels about marriage we looked at a thousand-plus-page epic novel about life and death in medieval Norway: early death, mutilation, miserable weddings, war, prowling wolves, even the Black Plague itself. So you might be relieved by the book I’ve chosen this time. Nick Hornby’s 2001 How to Be Good has a bright yellow cover, a modern British setting, and a manageable three-hundred pages. This first impression is misleading. How to Be Good is a brutal portrait of marriage—and an attack on virtue itself.
And I didn’t want to make this point in the review itself because it isn’t really fair, but in reading How to Be Good I was powerfully reminded of this passage from Deus Caritas Est:
A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below, the ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given. …The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others.