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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.
"As funny, compulsive and contemporary a first novel as you could wish for."—GQ
"One of the top ten books of the year."—Entertainment Weekly
"It is rare that a book so hilarious is also so sharp about sex and manliness, memory and music."—The New Yorker
"Mr. Hornby captures the loneliness and childishness of adult life with such precision and wit that you'll find yourself nodding and smiling. High Fidelity fills you with the same sensation that you get from hearing a debut record album that has more charm and verve and depth than anything you can recall."—The New York Times Book Review
"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
"Keep this book away from your girlfriend—it contains too many of your secrets to let it fall into the wrong hands."—Details
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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
Also, I kind of expected more 'top 5' lists.