Good to a Fault – Marina Endicott

The BookDepository


Winner of 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Canada and the Caribbean, Finalist for 2008 Giller Prize.

Good to a Fault follows 43-year-old Clara as she makes a series of life changing decisions. The chain of events starts when Clara crashes her car into one containing a homeless family. At the hospital it is discovered that the mother of the homeless family is suffering from cancer. Feeling guilty (or just trying to be a good citizen?) Clara takes the three children and their grandmother into her home while the mother receives treatment for her cancer. Clara, used to living by herself, struggles to cope with with the sudden noise and complication of living with children, but she does her best to adapt to the difficult situation.

The book raises interesting questions about whether it is possible to be selfless, helping others just because you are a nice person; or whether there is always another motive. In this case Clara could be viewed as trying to obtain the family she has always wanted, secretly hoping that the mother will die so that she can adopt them. Clara’s true thoughts are kept cleverly hidden, leaving the reader to decide for themselves how virtuous she really is.

It is an interesting premise, but unfortunately I found the book far too long. The middle section really dragged for me and I felt that at least 200 pages of this 480 page book could have been removed without losing much. The writing was mainly dialogue, so it moved along at a reasonable pace, but this book had the distinct disadvantage of being read straight after Beside the Sea. The relationship between the children just didn’t jump off the page in the same way and I found their characters quite flat and lacking in emotion.

The ending was very well done, but I’m afraid this didn’t make up for the slowness of the rest of the book.

Overall, I recommend this to those who are looking to read a quiet book about some nice characters and anyone interested in what it means to be a good person.


The majority of people loved this book:

The book is so good I was surprised I hadn’t heard more about it. Compulsive Overreader

…a bit unwieldy and much too long. S. Krishna’s Books

….there is a quiet intensity about it that completely drew me in. She Reads and Reads

I drank in every word of this perfectly true-to-life (but never boring) book. The Writer’s Pet

Send to Kindle


  1. Amy says:

    Hmm… I am intrigued to read this because it was the winner for Canada and the Caribbean, but it sounds slow. It does sound good though. Well, with my new ban I can’t rush out and get it anyway, but it is definitely still on my radar. Great review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, It wasn’t really slow, just overly long. Most people seem to enjoy it though – I guess it just depends on how much you like quieter books.

  2. Steph says:

    I actually picked up the ARC for this one a couple of months back because the writing of the opening chapter really pulled me in. I’m sorry to hear it was a bit of a let down for you, because I had high hopes for it. I wonder if I’ll have the same pacing issues that you did…

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I found the first few chapters quite good, but the plot slowed to a crawl after the first 50 ish pages. I will be interested to see what you think of it, but I suspect your tolerance for quieter books will mean that you enjoy this more than I did.

  3. It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy this more (since I obviously fell into the “loved it” camp!). I didn’t find it slow at all (and I think I’m easily bored), but then, I find that books with dialogue are really fast reads. There were very strong polar opinions about this during the “Canada Reads” competition this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, I did find the pace to be quite fast, but I became quite bored by those middle 200 pages – nothing seemed to happen! I’ll have to see if I can find those Canada Reads discussions – I think this would be a great book to talk about as it does raise a lot of interesting questions.

  4. Study Window says:

    I haven’t read this myself, but interestingly the only other person I know who has said almost exactly the same thing and followed it up with the cry, “Why are people afraid of writing a short book if that is what the story calls for.” Length does not equate with quality.

    1. Jackie says:

      Study Window, This would have been a fantastic 200 page book. For some reason I think novellas are more difficult to sell, but it is such a shame as I’m sure many books would work better at that length.

  5. Stujallen says:

    i ve this on tbr pile won it from harvey and the wonderful windmill books ,not sure when i ll get to it thou lol ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ll be interested in your thoughts on this one – I hope to decide to get to it soon :-)

  6. No, no, no: it should have had another 200 pages! Heheh. I’m not surprised that your reading of it felt long — I understand how it could be experienced that way — but I just slipped into the story and felt sorry to leave the characters behind when I was done. Either way I think it would make an interesting book to discuss in a group with the moral issues begging to be debated. And you loved the bookstore in it, right? ::grin::

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, Perhaps we could compromise by removing the middle 200 pages and adding another 200 pages to the end – I would love to know what happened to the characters after the ending. I would even go as far as to say I would like to read a sequel. It is a hard book to rate as I did enjoy the begining and the end and will be discussing the moral issues with a few friends.

  7. Sandy says:

    You’ve caused me to pause and ponder here. Because you are a reader of longish books, and many you have loved. So why not this one? Maybe it wasn’t the length so much as that the plot couldn’t support the length, or there just wasn’t enough going on. Chunky books intimidate me, but I will get to the point where I don’t want them to end, provided that the plot and writing keep me entertained.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I tend to love long books as they normally have the more intricate plots I enjoy. The problem with this one was that the plot didn’t support the length. I felt the middle section was all padding that could have been reduced to just a few pages. I’m currently reading I Know This Much Is True (900 pages) and loving it. Chunky books don’t intimidate me, but I don’t like to read too many in a row as I like the variety I get from reading several shorter books.

  8. Iris says:

    It sounds like this book divides readers into people who really enjoy a quieter book and one who struggle with slow pacing. I’m not sure on which side of the spectrum I belong just yet, but I have to admit that the book sounds intriguing. I also wonder if this is one of those books that might need a certain state of mind to be enjoyed?

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, I’m not sure about the state of mind thing – I think it is just down to your tolerance of quieter books. Perhaps other people vary in their ability to read quieter books, but I don’t normally like them, whatever my state of mind ;-)

  9. Jenners says:

    The premise is intriguing, and I’m thinking about adding it to my list… but the overlong bit gives me pause.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Don’t worry about that – the pace is quite fast so it is quick to get through the slow bit :-)

  10. I don’t think the book was overlong. Rather I think the author did not quite know where she was going so “tread water” for 200 pages. I am one of those who was somewhat disappointed with what the water-treading produced. Certainly, it is a worthy effort for a first novel,but not much more.

    1. Jackie says:


      ‘water-treading’ is a great way of putting it! Perhaps I just phrased it in the wrong way, but I do think the book would have been much improved if the 200 pages of ‘water-treading’ were removed.

  11. Jenny says:

    My perennial worries about what it takes to be a good person make it difficult for me to enjoy books that deal with these sorts of themes too explicitly. Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good was weirdly upsetting for a basically funny novel, for instance. Sorry this wasn’t better for you! I’ll be steering clear too. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I haven’t read How to be Good, but can see how worrying about being a good person would make this type of book a hard read. I’m pleased I’ve been able to save you from some heartache :-)

  12. Andreea says:

    The synopsis sounds good, but I don’t like books that are too slow because they make you abandon them (at least that’s what I do when a book is like that).

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, I often abandon books like that too. In my pre-blogging days I might have given up on this one, but I’m pleased I didn’t as the ending was good.

  13. Michele says:

    Interesting. Might be a good read for wintertime? A quiet weekend with the fire roaring and no kids in sight? I have to be in the right mood for this kind of read.

  14. I read this because it was a contender for CBC Canada Reads. I found it to be a quintessentially Canadian story… but I guess I can understand your complaint that not much happens. It’s very much a character-driven story.

    Here’s my review:


  1. June Summary and Plans for July – Farm Lane Books Blog

Leave a Reply