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VINE VOICEon April 18, 2017
High Fidelity is a funny book, though at times not enjoyable. In a nutshell, this is the story of a man-child who is lazy, romantic and pathetic - not only in his love life but also his larger life. The romance is entirely self-directed, which is why Rob is such a pathetic character. It works because it is funny and the author makes you believe that this guy and his sad excuse for a life could actually exist.

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.
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on November 18, 2011
I wish I could elaborate on this book more, but suffice it to say that it was a very good novel worth reading, although I tend to gravitate towards other Hornby novels, such as A Long Way Down and Juliet, Naked. Still, it was a fantastic read, and from what I understand is usually considered his best novel, other than maybe About a Boy. There's just nothing I have but the utmost respect for Hornby as a writer. He paints the scenes well, and he uses varying themes throughout all his books. I guess almost anyone can relate to this book, as it involves relationships and those that hurt the most. It is about love, and loss, and then love again. I've seen the movie once a long time ago, and while reading the book, I imagined Jack Black and John Cusack as the two major characters. I'd say the book was better, because movies cut out so much that I almost wish that so many books weren't becoming movies. Definitely worth at least one read, as it is the perfect escape from whatever life is currently throwing at you. Great writing style, keeps your attention through the whole book. A must read for music lovers, as there are so many music references that you can tell that Hornby is a music buff. Some day I hope to write a novel this good, but the odds of that are a million to one.
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on May 21, 2000
If it hasn't already achieved the status of a contemporary classic, Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" will surely become the literary anthem for past and future generations of lost young men. Men who spend their lives escaping life and commitment. Rob is a vinyl junkie who owns a second hand record shop in London, an eternal teen whose emotional state and inner momentum is powered not by regular "adult" concerns (ie, jobs, mortgages, etc) but by 60s pop/rock classics. His Top 5 Desert Island Discs become the soundtrack of his life. Relationships (past and present) begin inevitably with a perfect compilation tape and end when the chase is won and reality bites. Growing up on Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" may have changed his life forever. Problem is, life doesn't quite deliver like Dusty sings it. Hornby's take on Rob is so spot-on and offhandedly true it's become a timeless metaphor for Joe of all generations. This is quite simply the most funny, readable and enjoyable book I have read all year. It's fast and zany and such rollicking fun you don't want it to end. Being a huge 60s pop/rock fan myself, I absolutely thrilled to the musical references which brought back so many wonderful memories I very nearly forgot. "High Fidelity" is quite the most accessible "must read" novel for everyone. Yes, both guys and gals. I promise you a great time. Amazing book ! PS : I haven't watched the movie yet, but I can't imagine it topping the book. I'd also bet that some of the resonance has been lost from the film's relocation to Chicago.
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on February 4, 2003
Like many people, the narrator of High Fidelity is always looking for something better. As a result, the protagonist Rob doesn't realize when he does have a good thing. Breaking up with girlfriend Laura doesn't even initially faze his; among break-ups, it doesn't even make his top five. But soon enough, he is a wreck.
His life after their break-up is both humorous and sad. The best humor actually comes from his record shop where he and his employees have a chance to display their musical knowledge and snobbery; Rob probably insults every reader somehow with all the musicians he puts down but it is done with a light touch.
The story of Rob and Laura will never be mistaken for their Dick van Dyke show namesakes. Their relationship is at best rocky, but Rob's efforts to become a better person, though awkward are refreshing. Will there be a happily ever after? Hornby is good at letting you know that such things are really rare, but there is at least the possibility.
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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.
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on November 22, 2016
I almost didn't finish, actually barely got started. I thought, "why is a 65 yr.old woman reading this I can't relate. Or, don't want to relate. My 20's and 30's were so exhausting. But I became amused and actually finished the book in a couple days. Yeah, Nick, you did a good job.
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on November 30, 2000
A witty and insightful accounr of the life and loves of an unmarried college dropout who regards himslf as a morose lonely failure trapped in awkward adolescence (although he runs his own business and lives in a London apartment on his own or with one of a succession of girl friends). Ultimately he gets to realise that things aren't really all that bad and that he's popular and successful, and his true love helps him to understand the meaning of life. He runs a golden oldie record store and displays immense erudition in popular culture, music, TV and movies, which counterpoints the action.
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on December 6, 2015
I like the novel, and I really like the movie (except for the terrible actress who plays Rob's girlfriend). As Chris Baty suggested in "No Plot? No Problem!" I used it for my reference novel when I did NaNoWriMo this year. It was not especially helpful. I guess I like the novel, but not THAT much.
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on January 27, 2018
arrived in great condition, good looking paperback. will probably read it myself before my husband does
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VINE VOICEon February 27, 2009
Rob Fleming would be pushing 50 today, a sobering thought for those of us who delighted in his arrested adolescence as presented in "High Fidelity", Nick Hornby's 1995 breakout novel.

"I want to go back to 1979 and start all over again", is how Rob puts it to us late in the story, and it's not just bell-bottom nostalgia he's thinking of - though you do get that, in a hilariously sent-up way. Its the menu of options that have since become closed to him, especially regarding love. Rob has just been ditched by his latest love, and he spends the first thirty pages going back to his youth recalling past dumping dames from his first kiss to his last roll in the hay.

He also is stuck in a dead-end job, selling old LPs at a tiny North London store called Championship Vinyl, where most of his day is spent listening to his two employees argue over whether the Righteous Brothers or Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels did the better version of "Little Latin Lupe Lu". If you care anything at all about pop music and its various offshoots over the last 50 years, you will find plenty of recognition comedy in "High Fidelity". For others, the send-up of nerdy one-upsmanship translates easy enough for laughter.

For most people, "High Fidelity" the book will be used to compare with "High Fidelity" the movie. The latter is a good one, definitely making my Top Five All Time John Cusack Movies list, but I wonder if the novel will similarly be on my Top Five Nick Hornby Novels in a few years' time. Not that "High Fidelity" isn't splendid company - it just goes on for a while longer than it needs to, and its narration seems a bit self-aware for someone whose life is supposed to be such a mess. Suffice it to say I don't want women thinking Rob is a typical male loser - he's a little too clever and sympathetic.

The novel does score points over the movie in some departments - Rob visits his parents in one chapter, and gets roped into a neighbor's wine party that brings out his self-pitying best. At one point, dragged to see a movie, he sees another young man in a similar predicament. The young man smiles sheepishly at Rob, who struggles to swallow down his disgust.

That gets at the heart of the message of "High Fidelity", that Rob's problem is one of snobbish selfishness, a desire to see himself as too important to accept the reality of his life for what it is. His relationship with ex Laura is not one of bitter feelings, but a dim sense of being cooped up by social expectations. Finding his way past his own narrow sense of self-satisfaction is the novel's central struggle, and its source of light. It's a common theme with Hornby - the main character in "About A Boy" later on will also need to get past his ideal of "island living" to find what it is about life that's really worth living for.

I like the message well enough. What I like more are the snappy one-liners. Maybe there's too many of them, and maybe Laura feels a bit too much like an echo of Rob's narration. But Hornby's often-unremarked gift for plot structure is well in evidence, and try not being entertained by it all the first time round.

"I get letters from young men, always young men, in Manchester and Glasgow and Ottawa, young men who seem to spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking for deleted Smiths singles and "ORIGINAL NOT RERELEASED" underlined Frank Zappa albums," Rob says of his clientele. "They're as close to being mad as makes no difference."

Paying Rob a call may seem mad to him, but it makes a whole lot of sense where "High Fidelity" is concerned.
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