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High Fidelity Paperback – August 1, 1996
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It has been said often enough that baby boomers are a television generation, but the very funny novel High Fidelity reminds that in a way they are the record-album generation as well. This funny novel is obsessed with music; Hornby's narrator is an early-thirtysomething English guy who runs a London record store. He sells albums recorded the old-fashioned way--on vinyl--and is having a tough time making other transitions as well, specifically adulthood. The book is in one sense a love story, both sweet and interesting; most entertaining, though, are the hilarious arguments over arcane matters of pop music.
From Publishers Weekly
British journalist Hornby has fashioned a disarming, rueful and sometimes quite funny first novel that is not quite as hip as it wishes to be. The book dramatizes the romantic struggle of Rob Fleming, owner of a vintage record store in London. After his girlfriend, Laura, leaves him for another man, he realizes that he pines not for sexual ecstasy (epitomized by a "bonkus mirabilis" in his past) but for the monogamy this cynic has come to think of as a crime. He takes comfort in the company of the clerks at the store, whose bantering compilations of top-five lists (e.g., top five Elvis Costello songs; top-five films) typify the novel's ingratiating saturation in pop culture. Sometimes this can pall: readers may find that Rob's ruminations about listening to the Smiths and the Lemonheads?pop music helps him fall in love, he tells us?are more interesting than his list of five favorite episodes of Cheers. Rob takes comfort as well in the company of a touring singer, Marie La Salle, who is unpretentious and "pretty in that nearly cross-eyed American way"?but life becomes more complicated when he encounters Laura again. Hornby has earned his own place on the London bestseller lists, and this on-the-edge tale of musical addiction just may climb the charts here. First serial to Esquire.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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At turns hilarious and morose, this is a wonderfully written character sketch about a guy who carries the story through bad dates, bad choices, a failing business, hapless employees, and odd behavior. Having seen the movie first, it's briefly jarring to find the story taking place in England, but the story itself is intact ... or perhaps I should say the movie artfully captures the slightly dysfunctional approach to romance of the book.
Rob is thirty-five going on twenty. His is a character that one feels flashes of sympathy for, but not as often as one wants to kick him in the rear and tell him to grow up and get a life that exists at least some of the time out of his head. (I read this long after seeing the movie and I must say that John Cusack does a brilliant job of bringing Rob to life on the big screen).
Rob's existential crisis revolves around women and his inability to sustain a good relationship. They always leave him (for the most part) and he has no clue that this is just how some relationships end or that he is usually the author of his own rejection. The book revolves around Rob's listing of his five most searing break-ups and his attempt to reconnect with his former flings to answer the question "why?" The larger story is Rob himself and the departure of Laura, the most significant love of his life who has just moved out after sharing a flat (this takes place in London) with him for years. Rob's day job, a fantasy small business where he indulges his preoccupation with pop music and a snobbish world view driven by other's appreciation of the "right" or "wrong" songs, is as much of a disaster as his love life.
Nick Hornby mines both lives for a lot of laughs. His writing is funny and descriptive and one gets to know Rob well (though one does not like Rob at all). This book had a lot of laugh out loud moments. I suspect there might be a little bit of Rob in a lot of guys - though I think maturity and living help stamp out the narcissism and utter self-absorption in those of us who go on to enjoy at least a modest success in our romantic and other lives. There is a lot to be said for growing up and learning - one is unsure if Rob will really embrace those concepts while reading this enjoyable book.
I was a bit hesitant about reading "High Fidelity," since I know nothing about the current (even remotely current) music scene. I think I could recognize a Frank Sinatra rendition, or maybe even Simon & Garfunkel, but other than that, it's strictly the ancient guys. But although pop music was woven throughout the entire novel, it never sidetracked me from Hornby's main focus on the characters: Rob (the narrator and protagonist), Barry, Dick, and Laura.
Rob is obsessed with sex - and even more obsessed with thinking about it. Nothing unusual or wrong with that. More power to him. You even love him for being so flummoxed by sex. He also thinks a lot about his life - how baffling it is and how unfair that it hasn't turned out better for him. He just sort of bumbles along, then makes lists when prospects seem too overwhelming.
What I like so much about Rob (and other Hornby characters) is that the reader gets to peer inside their heads. You get to know what they are really thinking. Not that their thinking is particularly profound. It's just a sort of puttering along, here and there, without much focus. And that seems (and feels) so human. 4-1/2 stars
Rob falls in and out of love at equal speed and his conquests usually desert him rather than the other way around, leaving him constantly pitying himself. He is one mixed up person.
The author’s ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style made it difficult to follow the threads of the plot, but as a movie was based on the book, I can’t help feeling I must have missed something important.
I rate it 2,5 stars.