Nick Hornby How To Be Good Analysis Essays

Essay writing

The second section of the exam requires you to write an essay. There will be two questions, usually one character-based and the other theme-based. You need to choose one of these. The most important thing is to remember to include as much detail as possible, because this tells the examiner that you know the text very well.

AO1

Respond to texts critically and imaginatively; select and evaluate relevant textual detail to illustrate and support interpretations.

AO2

Explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers’ presentation of ideas, themes and settings.

The examiners are looking for you to demonstrate good knowledge of the whole text. You must have a clear idea about:

  • the plot
  • characters
  • themes
  • language, form and structure

In the same way that you wrote a brief plan to help you in the extract question, it is a good idea to write a plan for your essay. This means that you can structure your essay properly so that you do not leave anything out or repeat information. You should include some short, relevant text references, but this is not a memory feat so do not worry about learning a lot of quotes!

Here are examples of essay titles from a higher tier and a foundation tier exam.

Higher tier

How does Nick Hornby present families and family life inAbout a Boy?

Foundation tier

What impressions of families and family life do you get from About a Boy? Write about different parts of the novel to support your answer.

Planning your answer

  1. Introduction. Explain briefly how there are various different family set-ups in the novel.
  2. Discuss how Marcus’ family set-up changes.
  3. Discuss Will’s lack of family and how he resolves this.
  4. Discuss the other families portrayed.
  5. Conclusion. Here you should summarise the points you have made.

Higher tier sample answers

Here are two sample responses which address point three of the essay plan above:

Sample answer one

Will is single at the start of the novel. He tells himself that he is very happy with his situation; he can go out when and where he pleases, and he never has to consider anybody else’s feelings. Will tells himself that he can live perfectly happily on his own, and if he wants to feel like he is part of a group he can simply watch other people’s lives. Will begins dating Angie, who is a single mother with two children. It is a new experience for Will, and he enjoys going out with Angie and the children and being mistaken for the father. Will goes to SPAT and has a couple of relationships with other single mothers until he falls in love with Rachel, and he finds himself being afraid that he will lose her somehow. This is the reason for Will’s lack of commitment in the past; he is terrified of being hurt. The benefits of relationships outweigh the drawbacks, but Will takes a long time to accept this. Will accepts an invitation from Marcus and Fiona to spend Christmas Day with them and, although he does not really want to go, he finds that he really enjoys himself. Marcus’ father, Clive; his girlfriend Lindsey and Lindsey’s mother all come to Fiona’s flat for the day and Will thinks that he did not know that people could still get on with one another after a break-up. At the end of the novel, Will understands that he had to lose , which makes him vulnerable, but being in a relationship is worth all of that.

Feedback comments – good focus on Will but underdeveloped

This answer shows that the candidate probably knows the character of Will very well. The only problem is, there is not much supporting detail. For example, an opportunity to discuss John and Christine’s family was missed at the beginning. This is when Will decides that he feels sorry for couples with babies as their lives seem to be over. He feels smug at this stage of the novel and obviously still has a long way to go. The discussion of Will’s involvement with Angie and her children is better, but it ends rather abruptly and moves on to other ideas. SPAT could have been explained in more detail. There is some nice analysis of Will’s fear of commitment which could have been expanded by looking at his own childhood, for instance. There should be a few more references to the idea of family in this paragraph – whenever or is referred to, it would be worth substituting the word to show that the question is being addressed.

Sample answer two

Will is resolutely single at the start of the novel. He tells himself that he is very happy with his situation; he can go out when and where he pleases, and he never has to consider anybody else’s feelings. There is a hint near the beginning that he will not always feel this way, because it is clear that he has a lot of growing up to do, even though he is 36 years old. The narrator notes that if Will had seen a glimpse of his 36 year-old self when he was 20, he might have been rather disappointed because he was so alone. Will tells himself that he can live perfectly happily by simply observing other people’s lives, which he describes as peeking over a fence at them. He goes to visit his friends John and Christine, who have a toddler and a new baby, and he feels sorry for them and all the mess around them. Will begins a new phase in his life when he begins dating Angie, who is a single mother with two children. It is a new experience for Will to be part of a family, and he enjoys going out with Angie and the children and being mistaken for the father. He thinks that it is a bonus that at the end of the day he can just go home. As the book progresses, Will has a couple of relationships with other single mothers, and he remains rather detached emotionally until he meets Rachel. He falls in love with her, which has never happened to him before, and he finds himself being afraid that he will lose her somehow, either in an accident or if she leaves him. The reader realises that this is the reason for Will’s lack of commitment in the past; he is terrified of being hurt. The central message of the novel is that we all need other people in our lives, and becoming involved with others means that we will sometimes be hurt. The benefits of relationships outweigh the drawbacks, but Will takes a long time to accept this. Another way that Will finds out that families can be a good thing is when he accepts an invitation from Marcus and Fiona to spend Christmas Day with them and, although he does not really want to go, he finds that he really enjoys himself. Marcus’ father, Clive; his girlfriend Lindsey and Lindsey’s mother all come to Fiona’s flat for the day and Will thinks that he did not know that families could still get on with one another after a break-up. The narrator tells us that even Will was not cynical enough to wish Marcus anything but happiness on Christmas Day. At the end of the novel, Will understands that he had to lose which makes him vulnerable, but being part of a family is worth all of that.

Feedback comments – much better with discussion, analysis of character and reference to relevant events in the text

This is a focused response, looking exclusively at Will and his opinion about families. It moves chronologically through the timeline of the novel, looking at the way Will regards families at the beginning, and monitoring the way his feelings change as he becomes more involved with other people. The reference to “the hint” at the start is really interesting, because it shows that the candidate has an overview of the entire text. There is also some valid judgement about Will having a lot of growing up to do. The discussion of John and Christine shows secure knowledge of the text and is a relevant example. The comments about the benefits of relationships outweighing the drawbacks are very mature and thoughtful. The discussion of the Christmas Day spent at Fiona and Marcus’ flat also adds to the response, being focused on a different example of family dynamics for Will to experience.

To improve further, this response could have included some reference to Will’s own childhood, growing up in a dysfunctional family, and which certainly caused him to be so wary of commitment.

In this latest collection of essays following The Polysyllabic Spree, critic and author Nick Hornby continues the feverish survey of his swollen bookshelves, offering a funny, intelligent, and unblinkered account of the stuff he's been reading. Ranging from the middlebrow to the highbrow (with unrepenting dips into the lowbrow), Hornby's dispatches from his nightstand tablIn this latest collection of essays following The Polysyllabic Spree, critic and author Nick Hornby continues the feverish survey of his swollen bookshelves, offering a funny, intelligent, and unblinkered account of the stuff he's been reading. Ranging from the middlebrow to the highbrow (with unrepenting dips into the lowbrow), Hornby's dispatches from his nightstand table serve as useful guides to contemporary letters, with revelations on contemporary culture, the intellectual scene, and English football, in equal measure.

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Paperback, 153 pages

Published September 13th 2006 by McSweeney's (first published September 10th 2006)

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