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Journal: Book Review: Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

Journal by vitaly.friedman

"There is still no better way than through music to be surprised by life."
Simon Frith, "Music and Everyday Life"

Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby was born in 1957 in Maidenhead, England; he is the son of a successful businessman Sir Derek Hornby. When Nick was 11 (=eleven) years old, his parents divorced and since then he became a very dedicated reader. Hornby majored in English Literature at Cambridge University and here he began to compose stage plays, screenplays and radio plays. After graduating Hornby taught English to foreign students. Besides his profession he wrote articles about music, books and sports for some British & American newspapers.

In the 90's Nick Hornby turned to writing full-time. His first novel "High Fidelity" was published in 1995. It was acclaimed (=praised) as well by critics as by readers and was the #1-bestseller in England.

Nick Hornby is often called "the maestro of the male confessional" for his outstanding ability to translate men's mindset and behavior perfectly to the page. In other words, Hornby puts in his books a lot of ideas and feelings which most man simply aren't capable of admitting. Today Hornby is the pop-music critic for the New Yorker Magazine and lives in North London. He won wide recognition all around the world and is currently one of the most popular modern English writers.

List of works: memoir "Fever Pitch" (1992) (**), "High Fidelity" (1995) (**), "About a Boy" (1998) (*), "How to be good" (2001), "31 Songs" (2003). ( * = books were adapted for the films; ** = books were adapted for the films and #1-bestsellers in England).

More information is available online on http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/packages/uk/articles/hornby/

Details about the book:

  • the novel contains 35 chapters + the outline (-> protagonist is 35 years old);
  • the story is told by engaging first-person narrator (=protagonist) in present tense;
  • informal, bold, colloquial language with striking references to music and musician;
  • the plot is told chronologically but with several flashbacks;
  • soliloquy, inner monologue;
  • dramatic irony, using of hyphenated words ("picking-up-stuff phase"), italics

Plot:

Already at the beginning of the story readers get captured in the inner universe of Robert Fleming, owner of a semi-failing record store in London. Rob is 35 years old. He lives in a flat full of dusty vynils and music records and seems to be a very pathetic, melancholic person, who dedicates his whole life to the world of music. Rob is broke; he doesn't stand on his own feet, he is afraid of lasting relationships and he judges people by their musical tastes.

Nevertheless there is enough room for countless desert islands in the Fleming's music universe: the protagonist is a compulsive list-maker. He tries to combine every single thing of his environment into one compact Top 5 List. So, together with Dick and Barry - two music freaks who work in his record shop - Rob endlessly compiles the Top Five Elvis Costello songs, Top Five Best Films of All Time and even Top Five Bands Or Musician Who Should Be Shot If It Came to the Musical Revolution.

Despite his passion Rob is afraid of being loser, living his own life in his worthless little flat. So when his girlfriend Laura - smart and highly successful lawyer he lived with about 3 years - leaves him for somebody else, he embarks on a journey through the past. He compiles Top Five most memorable split-ups in his life - split-ups which really hurt. He wants to figure out what is wrong with him and how he should organize his life.

Rob reflects about his whole life. Readers get to know that Rob was doomed to combine the whole load of averageness. He was nothing special, nevertheless he used to get along with girls. But at the same time he didn't manage to get along with relationships. Music guru ran in circles: he felt in love with some girl, they created a couple, he was rejected, some girl felt in love with him, they created a couple, but he rejected. Finally, being rejected again Rob reached the turning point when his life completely changed. The protagonist escaped into the world of music and dropped out the college. He used to work as a DJ in a club, but then he lost this job and found himself the owner of a record shop.

Thinking about the past, Rob becomes absorbed in the world of music again. He reorganizes his music collection and sorts the records autobiographically - in the order he bought them. At the same time he seeks refuge in the company of Dick, Barry and country singer Marie LaSalle who stays in London during her tour. The protagonist meets Marie in a kind of pub, songs she sings make him cry and he straight away falls in love with her.

Nevertheless the feelings for Laura are still alive. And when Rob finds out, that Laura shares the (an) apartment with Ian - the guy who lived upstairs - sexual insecurity crushes over him. Why? He recalls the times when together with Laura he used to listen to him having sex. But was it really sex which forced Laura to leave him? Not really. Apparently "Mr. Lover" slept with somebody else while Laura was pregnant and this affair was the reason for terminating the pregnancy; besides, he borrowed a large sum of money from her, didn't pay it back and told Laura that he was unhappy in their relationship.

Meanwhile Laura and Rob are still stuck in the middle of the such-called "picking-up-stuff"-phase: several times Laura comes to pick up her stuff. Rob doesn't miss the opportunity to ask her if there is any chance of getting back together and - what is more important - whether sex with Ian was better. Being tired of Rob's stubbornness, Laura spits out that the chance is about 9% and that she hasn't slept with Ian yet. But that is enough for Rob to start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He feels much better - so much in fact, that he goes straight out and sleeps with Marie LaSalle.

In spite of a new affair Rob doesn't even think about giving up his love for Laura. Some days after their last conversation he finds out that Laura slept with Ian. This fact puts him off his stroke, but it doesn't stop him from the struggle for his love. Rob calls Laura 30 times a day, shows up near Ian's flat, but without any success. Finally Rob decides to get rid of the burden which he bore his whole life. He tracks down old girlfriends and convinces himself that there is no reason for worrying about the past.

And then Rob realizes that he appears to be the last person who still belongs to the Club of Losers. Everybody got along with own life: everyone settled down, made a career and have kids. And what is about Robert Fleming? He celebrates his birthday in a pub with people whose phone numbers he didn't lose (p. 55). The protagonist definitely decides to change his life. And then everything changes.

The day after his birthday Rob calls Laura and stumbles over her cold and desperate voice. Laura tells him that her dad has died. Rob admits that he has never been in a close relationship with Laura's dad and that's why he doesn't even know what he is supposed to feel. But when his ex-girlfriend asks him to come to the funeral he just can't say no.

During the funeral Rob faces the death at the first time in his life. He feels very uncomfortable, irritating and it seems that one little annoyance would be enough for Rob to step over the edge. Of course, he steps over the edge. Laura's best friend Liz puts him in an embarrassing position, he becomes angry and walks out in a sulk. At the same time, Laura feels exhausted and desperate. She looks for an excuse to leave the funeral and when Rob walks out, she finds one.

And then... Well, then life begins on the other side of despair - as the french writer Sartre noticed. Laura follows Rob and admits that she needs someone who would take care of her. She mentions that she is simply too tired not to be together with Rob. And so Laura and Rob get back together.

Suddenly everything seems to become OK. Rob, once arrested in adolescence, feels that he is becoming an adult under Laura's influence. Laura gives him warmth, true intimacy, a sense of permanence. And then Rob understands that he has to do something about the shop - burn it down, whatever, and find himself a job.

The end of the story resembles the typical Happy End in the Hollywood films. Laura restars the club where Rob used to work as a DJ and arranges him as the host of the club. There he falls in love with young girl who interviews him for local newspaper, but then realizes that Laura is who he is now, and it's no good pretending otherwise. Therefore - in his opinion - it's appropriate time to ask Laura if she would marry him. Laura doesn't give a concrete answer, but it is obvious that she is going to say yes.

The story ends at club where Rob enjoys "the momentum". Now he knows that he is going to learn how to be an active actor and not a passive listener in his life.

To read or not to read?

In his novel Nick Hornby reaches into the depth of human feelings and describes the universal reflection of our own lives. He successfully walks the fine line between humor and sadness, hope and despair. While many dialogues has a very deep meaning, some passages are hilariously funny. The book has a striking musical backbone, nevertheless the author makes use of immediate and articulate style of reporting: book is written in plain and accessible language, therefore one can read the novel without dictionary. So if you're looking for the book, which would make you think and feel or you just want to expand your music lexicon - this book is beyond doubt the right one.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -- Thomas Alva Edison

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