Book Review : Nick Hornby - High Fidelity (1995)
OK. This one might require a little bit of context.
Nick Hornby’s romantic comedy High Fidelity is the first “adult novel” I’ve ever read as a teenager. I always had a soft spot for it because it’s about being a pop culture nerd and trying to have a girlfriend, which I could relate to in ways I never related to anything prior. But High Fidelity is going to be 25 years old soon, so I started wondering whether it’s a contemporary classic or one of these boyhood novels you need to read to realize there are much better books written out there. The answer is a little bit of A and a little bit of B. It aged surprisingly well for a novel primarily about men’s emotions.
So, High Fidelity tells the story of Rob Fleming, a thirty-something record store owner who got recently dumped by his long-time girlfriend Laura. Unsure of how to deal with this breakup, Rob contacts five girlfriends who left him and (according to him) left a more painful memory than her, in order to understand what exactly went wrong each time. And, you know, whenever you’re asking people who got tired of your bullshit to tell you what’s wrong with you… you’re going to get confronted an awful lot. In various and uncomfortable ways.
Well, twenty-four years of perspective lead me to realize this: Rob is kind of a self-centered asshole. He defines himself by his relationship to music and therefore judges everybody in regard to theirs, which is something you normally stop doing after college. Rob doesn’t even seem that passionate about music, unless it’s either to laugh at an employee’s tastes or to situate an anecdote in time. All he does is reminisce the pain and anxiety women have caused him over his numerous breakups without wondering what could be the cause until super late in the novel. It seems far fetched in hindsight that it takes Rob so long to understand his own destructive patterns.
But it’s fine that Rob’s a self-centered asshole, because everyone else in High Fidelity seems to think he is, too. It’s not one of these novels where everybody seems to only exist to comfort the protagonist in his worldview. Laura in particular is challenging and heartbreaking, because she obviously still loves Rob despite his toxic behavior chipping away at her self-esteem. She felt unloved and replaceable in a stalling relationship and took responsibility for not only her life’s improvement, but Rob’s too, incidentally. She’s, by far, the most interesting character in High Fidelity.
Rob Fleming is the ancestor of characters like How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby and other thirty-something single heartthrobs who are “inexplicably unable to find love”. But unlike Ted and his other successors, Rob is confronted to his inability to let others into his insular fantasies and tendencies to paint himself as the good guy just because he’s the one telling the story. So, that makes High Fidelity still somewhat relevant today. Of course, going through such lengths for emotional growth most people get in their twenties is ludicrous, but I guess everyone has their own rhythm. The important is that High Fidelity can still help emotionally stunted nerds get out of a rut today, right?