High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Riverhead Books (Penguin), 1995
tradepaper (1996). own.
I’ve been in a bit of reading slump, barely managing my Early American Lit course assignments (which had some great texts!). We’d just unpacked the books and recreated a few shelves dedicated to books we wanted to read sooner than later. We have most all of Nick Hornby’s books because Sean is a big fan. I tucked High Fidelity in the bag knowing I was in for a wait at the airport. I was thinking: Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree had cured me before, I should give him another go. Good news, it worked. I even stayed up late reading.
Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? … ~excerpt from jacket copy.
Many may be familiar with the 2000 film adaptation by Steven Frears, and making the transition back to the text was only a bit tricky (I just cannot imagine John Cusack with any sort of British accent) and the adaptation was not only from book but from another culture. The form and tone had translated well into cinema, but the novel is really worth the while; there are some lovely details and angles the film hasn’t.
I am a big fan of the film adaptation, and the casting choices were brilliant, but here are five reasons why I like the book better:
1. Hornby’s writing: smooth humorous prose, perfect comedic timing, and a first-person narrative that doesn’t try too hard (you know what I mean). And there are even more quotes to record and intriguing questions to ponder.
2. The Rob Fleming of the book is more awkward, and more obviously troubled by age, life-style, and financial state. Laura is also less enigmatic and less in control. The characters and their situations are hardly romantic (even in a geekdom kind of way); which is part of the “expectations” trouble Rob is dealing with.
3. The characters actually “grow-up” rather than mature. As opposed to the film, it is not just that he can’t get away with his old crap, Rob realizes he is growing into something better.
4. The things we miss in the intimate thoughts and interactions with Marie LaSalle and with Laura (at the funeral) to name two.
5. The conversations between, especially the arguments, are not Wes Anderson clever, more Hemingway clever and yield embarrassingly verisimilitude to how arguments, conversations, and reactions tend to run.
Spin sums up the effect of the book very nicely.
“Hornby’s seamless prose and offhand humor make for one hilarious set piece after another, as suffering, self-centered Rob ruminates on women, sex, and Abbey Road. But then he’s forced to consider loneliness, fitting-in, death, and failure—and that is what lingers.” –Spin
Even at his most ridiculous, Rob is hard to dismiss; or maybe it is just me, but I find his perspective on various subjects interesting. And there is a melancholy that I like: his Doris Day rant and reluctant realization (273-4) adds to the ache. The silly moments have a tinge of serious undertones, and the serious have a taste of the absurd. I am now reading About a Boy and only chapters in I can see that I will enjoy further ruminations on “loneliness, fitting-in, death, and failure,” subjects to which I wonder if I will ever be immune–I certainly like Hornby’s treatment of them.
recommendations/of note: I am not big on relationship drama books whether they be “chick-“ or “dick-lit”—these kinds of premises usually have to be pretending to be something other. I was not looking for insight into the male-mind kind of reading either, but I am ever intrigued. So if you are like me in those one or two ways, feel confident in making an exception with High Fidelity.