9 April 2021

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I don't know why it's taken me so long to read more Nick Hornby since I really enjoyed About a Boy (one of our first reviews, linked here). When the pandemic started I binged the TV adaptation of this starring Zoë Kravitz and it inspired me to add the book to my list. I really hate that I read it right after Heartburn because it was also SO good and I hate reading two amazing books back to back, even though I know that sounds dumb (as I write this I am now on my third amazing book in a row and it is stressing me out).

High Fidelity is told from the first person perspective of Rob, a thirty-something year old record store owner who is going through a breakup. He then goes on a mission to dissect some of the previous significant breakups in his life all while having an existential crisis. 

I agree that you need to meet somebody new in order to dispense with the old- you have to be incredibly brave and adult to pack something in just because it isn't working very well."

Nick Hornby

Hornby is really involved in the music world - he has worked both as a musician and a music journalist and there are so many bands and songs referenced throughout. Rob, being a record store owner, is fascinated with how music impacts his own life and he and his friends who work at the shop with him are obsessed with choosing music to correspond with their significant life events and making "top five" song lists of very specific genres. They spend the whole book doing this and then there's a funny bit at the end where a reporter asks him offhand for his top five favourite songs of all time and he is paralyzed with indecision.

...some of these songs I have listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen or nineteen or twenty-one. How can that not leave you bruised somewhere? How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong? What came first- the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?"

I wish I wasn't this lame but I ended up making a playlist of all the songs mentioned and it's pretty good, you can listen here.

Hornby's strong suit is definitely in character development. Rob is ignorant, narcissistic, and egotistical, but also somehow sad and charming. I remember feeling this way about the main character in About a Boy as well. Rob's inner monologue is so honest and detailed, and frankly exhausting, that you just feel like you know him. I definitely had a bias going into reading the book but I feel so confidently now that there is just nobody else who could play him than John Cusack. I'm not even really a fan of his but he just has that annoying, neurotic, pest-like quality to him that makes him so perfect for this role. 

John Cusack and Jack Black in the 2000 film adaptation

There are some pretty depressing passages about relationships in this, depressing in that they're too true. I just read a woman's experience with heartbreak in Heartburn and now, to read a man's perspective- it's been a lot. Rob is candid about his shortcomings as he explains why he needs to be in a relationship and how being single directly affects his self-worth. I know a lot of people like this, even myself at times, and everyone tries so hard to mask it as something different. It's refreshing to read the honest inner monologue of a man who is spiraling because he's terrified of being alone. 

Oh, we know, both of us, that it shouldn't matter, that there's more to life than pairing off, that the media is to blame, blah blah blah. But it's hard to see that, sometimes, on a Sunday morning, when you're maybe ten hours from going down to the pub for a drink and the first conversation of the day."

Hornby writes about aspects of a breakup we've all been through- how we reinvent memories to make them seem better and conveniently wipe out all the bad parts, how we want our exes back only because they don't want us anymore, how we would have been 'fine' with splitting up if only we hadn't been so blindsided, how you'll never see their family again, etc. It's honestly one of the best breakup books I've ever read, especially now moving into my thirties and having an understanding of the desperation that sort of makes Rob who he is. If I was writing a lit essay I'd go deep on how Rob's love life is a broken record + the record store + the cover art, blah blah. This isn't a lit essay but you get my point.

I know what's wrong with Laura. What's wrong with Laura is that I'll never see her for the first or second or third time again. I'll never spend two or three days in a sweat trying to remember what she looks like, never again will I get to a pub half an hour early to meet her, staring at the same article in a magazine and looking at my watch every thirty seconds, never again will thinking about her set something off in me like 'Let's Get It On' sets something off in me."

This also has to be one of the best adaptations of any book, ever, even though it has Jack Black in it who I despise. I mentioned earlier but Cusack is perfect for the role of Rob. There's nobody else who could have been so irritatingly emo. For a screenplay that Hornby had nothing to do with, it's incredibly close to the book. I also appreciated that Cusack addresses the camera directly and sort of monologues in journal fashion on screen. I realize this isn't possible for every adaptation but I do think it helps the best parts of the book translate.

Zoë Kravitz and David H. Holmes in the 2020 television adaptation that was wrongfully cancelled

The TV show is also excellent and before reading the book I'd have thought I preferred the TV series but now, having read it, I just don't think girls like Rob exist. I know that's the whole point of the gender role reversal, and that's also what makes Kravitz so cool as Rob, but it's just less believable. Even the TV series has a very similar screenplay. There were lines in the show that I could finish as I heard them being delivered because I remembered them from the movie. I was happy to find those lines verbatim in the book. I can't recommend one thing over the other... just know they're all so good but with enough difference that you won't be bored by trying your hand at all three. 

This really is SO good. It's a rare piece of melodramatic fiction that I'd think even a guy would like. I can't wait to read more Nick Hornby and re-watch this movie again a few more times.

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