on August 15, 2000
1. It is very original; 2. Biting wit and numerous laugh out loud moments; 3. Several pop music and movie references; 4. Startlingly accurate depictions of male post-breakup pathos; 5. Numerous London colloquialisms let us know how they live and speak in England.
I absolutely loved this novel. It was witty, exploring with a keen eye relationships and the reasons why men and women get together, and sometimes drift apart. Narrator Rob is a self-indulgent whiner who tries to make himself feel better after getting dumped by making lists to himself of "top 5 breakups", as well as lists of "top 5 breakup songs". He does something many of us 30-something men often think of doing, namely contact old flames out of an odd, morbid curiosity as to their whereabouts and marital status.
While Rob and his incessant ruminations on his past and present love life can sometimes get old, Hornby deftly changes gears whenever a change is needed and involves numerous excellent secondary characters, including record store employees and comrades-in-arms Dick and Barry (played amazingly well by Jack Black in the recent movie) as well as a folkie American female musician living in London. The scenes in Rob's second hand record store are priceless, as well as some memorable episodes in North London's pubs where Rob and the boys hoist a pint or two while they argue meaningless musical debates.
It is difficult to categorize the novel, but I can simply say that as a male of approximately the same age as the protagonist, it appeared Hornby (and Rob) were talking my language (albeit with a British flair), and I therefore breezed through this book quicker than most. You need not be male and over 30 to enjoy it, but reading it will reveal some of our secrets and obsessions. Pick it up, you won't be disappointed.
Did you have a favorite blanket when you were little? Get ready to meet your new one, now that you're older. This book gave me more pleasure last year when I read it than that much beloved piece of flannel ever did, and I dragged Nick Hornby's pseudomemoir around with me long after I finished reading it, in the sense that I tried to FORCE everyone else I knew, even slightly, to read it. Why? Like Rob, the protagonist, I am not exactly sure about "stuff". However, at least he is honest, and, incredibly funny about the mess he is making about his life. In other words, he is so very, totally, hopelessly HUMAN.
I didn't particularly care about the fact that the author is male and I, the reader, am female. I think this is not the point of this book. Rather, this book is about the struggles we all have, doing our best to face up to our fears, and the total screw ups we all make just living our lives when we finally take some sort of a stand about ANYTHING and make a choice. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Ha, ha, ha.
Just read the first page and I guarantee you'll be hooked. By the time you are finished, you will be touched and you will want to touch the other people you know by sharing this terrific, funny, poignant, contempory bestseller with them.
Can't wait to see the movie. If John Cusack doesn't do right by this, I'll be really surprised. Even though he is not British, like the author, Nick Hornby, he should be perfect. He's got the vulnerable yet intelligent maleness that makes you incapable of not loving High Fidelity's funny, goofy, always trying (well, kind of) Rob down to a T. Now go rearrange your record collection.
best wishes, Jean
on July 28, 1999
I read this book twice -- once when I was single (loved it), and again while I was seven months pregnant, stranded with sciattica in my hotel room in Venice while my husband went sight-seeing. The hotel had a copy of HIGH FIDELITY in its small "lenders" library and I snatched it with huge relief. It was even better the second time. While bolts of pain shot down my left leg and my unborn son trounced merrily on my spine, I followed Hornby's tale of love, lust and ambiguity to its brilliant conclusion. Laughing out loud is difficult when you are third-trimester incontinent, but I managed. This is one of my favorite books -- wickedly funny, dead brutal, and absolutely uproarious in its twists. It is one of those rare books that can be equally enjoyed by both sexes -- Hornby is a riot, a writer's writer. I especially liked his use of music -- an added thread of interest to an already engrossing narrative. His characters are oddly real, compelling, a joy -- the dialogue crackles with life. I gasped more than once at his exhuberant style, his sure hand with the most delicate of subjects. If you read only one book this summer, make it HIGH FIDELITY. I would be dumbstruck if ABOUT A BOY were as startling, but I plan to give it a try. This man has it.
on March 3, 2003
I decided to give this book a read after seeing the excellent John Cusack film for the second time (and shame on you if you haven't seen it!). I wasn't sure what to expect of the novel, knowing as I did that, among other things, Cusack and director Stephen Frears had taken the liberty of relocating the story from London to Chicago. What other things might have been messed with?
Not much, as it turns out. Never in the history of book-to-film translations (with the possible exception of Fight Club) have there been fewer alterations and deviations from the novel than in the case of High Fidelity. This is aided, of course, by the fact that the book, in trade paperback, consists of a slim 323 double-spaced pages. The end result is that in the film, no important scenes are omitted, and hardly any characters got the axe either. The flip side of the coin is that the book, as fiction, is a bit of a light lunch. Like the movie, the novel is narrated by Rob, the beleaguered owner of one of those wonderful out-of-the-way (translation: customer-free) used record stores, this one being named Championship Vinyl. After being abandoned by his pretty and smart girlfriend Laura for an aging, hawaiian-shirt- and ponytail-sporting, incense-burning New Age hipster named Ian, the perplexed Rob - who thinks in Billboard-style lists - goes on to tell us the stories behind his "all-time desert island top five" breakups, while in the present day desperately trying to win back his skeptical ex. Comedy ensues.
This sort of story's been done before, of course, but one of the neat little twists is the tour Hornby gives us of the musical culture, where respect is earned by stumping people with encyclopedic knowledge of bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, and the undisguised contempt that the music elite, like the elites of all niche groups, express towards the everyday civilian. The pop culture at large permeates every facet of High Fidelity - certain passages don't make much sense unless you know what Rob means when he says, for instance, that someone reminds him of a character from Reservoir Dogs. This, of course, makes the book very much a novel of the 1990s - probably not something to be read twenty or thirty years from now - but unlike similar name-dropping books and movies, this novel is introspective about its own inseparable connection to the transitory. And this cuts to the heart of Rob's problems, because he's let the worship of the impermanent take over his life. "Do I listen to pop music because I'm miserable," he muses, "or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?" Like all mass-culture junkies, Rob mourns for the loss of old favorites while simultaneously trying to get his hands on the next big thing. So it is with his love life.
Rob could easily come off as a narcissistic jerk, but Hornby neatly pulls off the trick of making us see where he's been sabotaging his relationships with women with sympathy rather than scorn. And the mistakes Rob makes are the mistakes that many men have made, though perhaps not so hilariously. The book is short (another way of putting it, of course, is that it never outstays its welcome) and full of suitably quotable lines. The London setting really makes no difference to the story one way or another (though the British school system continues to confound me: for a while I was under the impression that the "sixth form" was akin to our sixth grade, and thus was in for a shock when Rob's youthful counterpart began indulging in heavy petting). As a comedy, High Fidelity is excellent, though as literature it's basically junk food; but for the eight or ten hours I was reading the book, I was fully under its spell. If we're being honest, how many other books can we say that about? I don't want to seem like I'm damning with faint praise: good comedy is harder by far than it looks, and even rarer is a book that leavens the humor with thoughtful characterization and crisp prose.
on April 2, 2000
Nick's one of the best, most sneaky writers I know. Well, I don't actually know him, but I know a friend who...okay, I don't actually know anyone who knows him, but he signed my presentation copy of High Fidelity. So, okay, it's actually the library's copy, but he's definitely on my top-ten, all-time best writers list of the nineties...
Nick Hornby writes romances. Sure, they're guy romances, which means there's a lot of duck and cover, much waffling, and many reorganizations of CD collections. But the bed-swapping is desultry and the typical masculine evasions are half-hearted, because Hornby's men are all in their mid-thirties and are beginning to experience the nagging heebie-jeebies, a sort of group angst. What if, they think, to paraphrase Gregory Corso, what if I'm sixty years old and all alone, with pee-stains on my underwear? What if I'm merely ordinary? What if I'm not...special? What if I'm going to die?
Nick Hornby's men have virtually no moorings. They simply await the opinion of others. They're like helium balloons, their strings digging annoyingly into the palms of the women and children who stubbornly hold onto them. Inevitably, these people want to let them go. And when they do, Hornby's antiheroes are terrified--of dissipation, of annihilation, of being alone. Without the defining weight of family, these men suspect they'd be merely ciphers. They'd be right, but they'd also be wrong, and this is what makes Hornby's books so quietly beautiful.
Rob Flemming doesn't have a life, he has a list. He's the spectator on the sidelines, keeping his options open, scorecard in hand, calculating up averages. The results are mixed: he can quote you the entire Stax catalogue, but he can't really tell you why Laura, his lover, is moving out. True, yes, there was that affair and a baby and an abortion, but...but....
Well, Rob suspects he's really a nasty wretch of a slimeball, and to prove it to himself, he begins revisiting all the disasterous lost-loves of his Pre-Laura days (in chronological order, of course). He has a half-hearted affair with a real recording artist, and suitably thrilled to discover HER ex is a well-known American musician ("Steve";, but he's not going to name-drop).
Not a lot happens in a Hornby book, but the flow is so effortless, so peppered with trenchant growthfulness, so well written and sardonic, and so damn funny, that you don't much care. This is partly due to Nick Hornby's talent for dialogue, which he writes with the same flawless ear as fellow Britons Nina Bowden and Barbara Pym. At one point in the book, when Laura is haranguing Rob on his failings, she says, "You just...you just don't do anything. You get lost in your head, and you sit around thinking instead of just getting on with something, and most of the time you think rubbish. You always seem to miss what's really happening." To which he replies, "This is the second Simply Red song on this tape. One's unforgivable. Two's a war crime. Can I fast-forward?"
Buy this book, read it the first time for the humor, which will have you on the floor. Read it again, for it's poignancy. And if you see Rob, give him a hug for me. He's not such a bad lot after all.
on May 8, 2000
I read this because I wanted to see if the pop culture/music references were really in the book. I got a lot more. Women, don't be put off thinking it's a "guy's book." I learned a lot about male sexualilty, views on romance vs. commitment, and the effects of hearing Dusty Springfield sing "The Look of Love" at an impressionable age. The lists and references are more fun, because you can stop and think about them and make your own lists. (No one asked, but Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" would be one of my top five favorite records of all time. Too obvious?) Read it to find out who is on the list of "Top Five Bands or Musicians Who Will Have to Be Shot Come the Musical Revolution (hint: Michael Bolton is one); and you will also be set to thinking about whether a hip music lover can find true love with a Simple Minds fan; if you can, in fact, judge people by their C.D./album collections and then be done with them; and what would be included in a dream-come-true record collection. You will also learn much more than you might think about why men can't commit.
on April 22, 2001
I made the mistake of seeing the movie before reading the book. Don't get me wrong -- I really liked the movie. In fact, I own the movie, but, I wish I would have read the book first, just so I could have had a better insight on the characters.
"High Fidelity" by British writer Nick Hornby is probably the most humorous piece of fiction I have ever read. I have never read any of Hornby's other works, but after reading this, I can't wait to get started on the next.
Hornby's main character, Rob, narrates the entire book, letting the reader in on the "ins and outs" of the male mind. Very original. The book starts with Rob's girlfriend, Laura, moving her things out of their flat after they had broken up. Rob tries to convince himself that he will be fine, that the breakup won't affect him in any way, and that Laura will be back. From there, the story stems to Rob's trying to cope with losing Laura, and his many stages of getting over her.
The best part of this book, in my opinion, would be Rob's co-workers, Dick and Barry. They add just the right comedic touches to Rob's life that he needs, but doesn't realize it, or appreciate it, for that matter. The constant bickering between the three men in Rob's record store, Championship Vinyl, was enough to make me laugh out loud....honestly.
If I would have known better, I would have read this over the summer when I had more time to fully appreciate Hornby's writing, rather than reading it while having other things going on during this past semester at college. But, I fully recommend this book not only for it's humor, but because it has an excellent plot and is very well-written.
on April 25, 2003
High Fidelity is very well written and engaging, funny and honest, and I think everyone should read it. Single guys in their late 20's or 30's who haven't quite grown up yet - I include myself in that category - will especially identify with the (often self-constructed) trials and tribulations of Rob Fleming. Maybe they'll even understand themselves a little better after reading it.
And it helps if you're a record collector with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, and pop culture in general, but I don't think that's absolutely essential to identifying with the central character. Neither is being British (Rob gets transplanted to Chicago in the movie version, and overall the movie is pretty true to the flavor of the book) - but you might learn some entertaining British slang, such as the difference between "snogging" and "shagging".
For me, High Fidelity consistently delivered flashes of recognition, a series of "I know exactly how he feels!" experiences, it was spookily dead-on. Examples: Ever gone out on the weekend with your parents as an adult and, nothing against your parents, but it makes you feel pathetic to be seen in public being escorted by your parents? Ever been obsessed with a woman and yet you can't picture what her face looks like, so that you end up imagining her with generic features, even though you have no trouble picturing the hot dog vendor you saw last week? Ever looked at a childhood photo of yourself and felt like you've failed him, because that's as good as his life is ever going to get? Hornby's descriptions are very true to life, sad and funny at the same time. At the end, it looks like at least the stage is set for Rob to finally move forward with his life (whether he actually does so is left open), and how he reaches that point is well worth seeing for yourself.
on July 8, 2000
It's not often an author masters the difficult skill of writing humor, but Nick Hornby takes the big prize for his rip-roaring novel High Fidelity. I really loved this book.
As a record collector, I was drawn to the book immediately. Within these pages my thirst for great and obscure rock music was satisfied, but as I read, I began to care about the narrator/protagonist Rob, the 30-ish record shop owner, right off. Why? Because his voice is so genuine and self-deprecating. And maybe being a woman gave me even more reason to love the guy: he comes across as a passionate man struggling inside an immature and obsessed teenager--but with a difference. And I can't tell you exactly what the difference is, but it has something to do with the character's self-knowledge. He knows it's time to grow up, but he doesn't want to, and he doesn't really see why this gets in the way of his success, as it were. The older I get, the more I realize that most of us feel this way, and that seems like a harmless enough quality, really. This novel captures an authentic character.
Part of the entertainment in this novel has to do with its style, of which it has a ton. Hornby is a clever writer who has fashioned a narrator so bent on succeeding in his relationship, that he's constantly checking himself and "top fiving" everything. I found this absolutley hilarious and realistic. His misery is alive and gnawing at him as he labours to figure out his failures, and it comes out in some of the funniest dialogue written.
Just read the first few pages and you'll be hooked. The voice shines. There's no challenging plot or point to scare readers away, either. It's just pure entertainment with so many great musical footnotes that readers may find themselves digging out the music Rob ranks. And by the way, the movie really captures this character and his world well, but typically, the book is just so much more crystal clear.
on April 1, 2000
Before there was MPEG-3 or digital surround sound or even stereo, there was High Fidelity. Hi-Fi delivered recordings with a full audible frequency range, from bass to treble, through a single channel. And it was fantastic. It made record engineering into a real art form and was the basis for the present, vast culture of recorded music. Hi-Fi belongs on any list of great techno-cultural advances.
What "High Fidelity", the book by Nick Hornsby, does is distil life, love, and culture into pivotal moments. The "fidelity" is to the highs and lows of everyday life. Rob, the main character, is a compulsive list maker--what he calls his top five lists: e.g. top five R&B singles, top five girls who dumped me, top five missed opportunities, etc. Since this owner of a used record store in London appears at the start of the book to have reached simultaneous nadir points in his career, love-life, and business, these lists assume great poignancy--I challenge anyone to read it without thinking up a few lists of their own. It sounds like the book might be dull and angst-ridden. There is angst, but it comes laced with laugh-out-loud dialog and situation--all delivered with a dead-pan cool. I can't remember a book that was so arch and knowing about male intimacy. In fact, it's hard to think of many books that were as funny. So in the spirit of "High Fidelity", here goes, my top five books that made me laugh out loud whether or not I was the only person in the room.
5. "Thank You for Smoking" by Christopher Buckley
4. "A Fine Madness" by Elliot Baker
3. "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornsby
2. "At Swim-Two-Birds" by Flann O'Brien
1. "Jim Blain and His Grandfather's Ram" by Mark Twain
Altho' the Twain piece is, in my opinion, the funniest prose ever written and I just couldn't leave it out, it's actually a short story from "Roughing It". Since the others are sustained novels, I'll have to give the number one slot to none other than "Catch 22" by the late, great Joseph Heller. Anyone else have a list?
I just learned that "High Fidelity" has been made into a movie starring John Cusack. Roger Ebert gives it a full four stars and I have great hopes that it will be as good as the book in its cinematic way--but don't miss the original.