As I get older, I find myself getting more and more nostalgic, particularly for the delightfully grungy 1990s – the music, the films, the company.
My teen years, although not incredibly extreme, were appropriately melancholy and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, complete with band rehearsals, favourite record stores and many mixed tapes.
Given this, I’m sure it’s no mystery to any one why Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is one of my favourite novels. Shelfishly, I’ve set it as this month’s TBYL Book Club book, firstly because it’ll give me an excuse to re-read it; but mainly because I want to hear what other people think about it.
“…the brilliant story of one man’s journey of self-discovery. When Rob – a thirty-five year old record shop owner and music obsessive – is dumped by Laura he indulges in some casual sex, a little light stalking and some extreme soul-searching in the form of contacting every ex-girlfriend who ever broke his heart.”
The novel starts with a recollective top 5 most memorable split-ups and through this list of five names and subsequent anecdotes we are introduced to Rob, to his current predicament, to his somewhat reluctant soul-searching and his valiant attempt at romantic resilience and disconnectedness.
“These were the ones that really hurt. Can you see your name in that lot, Laura? I reckon you’d sneak into the top ten, but there’s no place for you in the top five; those places are reserved for the kind of humiliations and heartbreaks that you’re just not capable of delivering. That probably sounds crueller than it is meant to, but the fact is that we’re too old to make each other miserable, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, so don’t take your failutre to make the list personally. Those days are gone, and good fucking riddance to them; unhappiness really meant something back them. Now it’s just a drag, like a cold or having no money. If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me earlier.”
Interestingly, to me, it’s this typical Gen-X ambivalence that makes Rob so intriguing, appealing and ultimately very likeable. He may be a bit hopeless, but hey, hopelessness kind of goes with the territory when you’re a guy like Rob, in a time like this.
I love the story of High Fidelity, the romance, the break-ups, the crazy, cartoonish characters. I love that we get to see Rob work through a process, a transformative period of time where he learns about his heart, his ambitions (once thought dead and gone) and about the people around him. For anyone who’s ever made hard choices, surprising discoveries and difficult changes, you’ll identify with this story.
But, more than just for the story, I love this book for it’s time and place. I find its setting and context completely transportative:
“The shop smells of stale smoke, damp, and plastic dust-covers, and it’s narrow and dingy and dirty and overcrowded, partly because that’s what I wanted…”
The constant references to albums, artists and songs will keep me very busy, as I plan on setting up a playlist as I re-read the book this time.
At the risk of courting controversy, I’m also going to do one other thing while I read. I’m going to re-watch the movie…
Whilst it’s not exactly true to the novel, and being set in the US instead of the UK was a strange choice, it is a film that I enjoyed in it’s own right. Although it is differnet to the book in many ways, I still think it captures the ‘spirit’ of the story, and is quite true to the time, if not necessarily to place. Plus, I’ll admit that I very much like John Cusack…
I’m so looking forward to finding out what everyone else thinks about this funny, touching and irreverent novel at the Book Club this month. Feel free to join us!