Nick Hornby, High Fidelity: An analysis

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25th Apr 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Rob, is a morose person who needs this excuse to always complain. Hes a very pessimistic person, who cant seem to find a positive outlook in anything. Rob is also a very self-conscious person who is not content with himself. He believes that he lacks in the areas he views as important in his life. He depends on his woman to keep him happy, and judges his life according to the woman he’s with. He simply can’t manage to be happy without one. His unhappiness drives him to be very critical and judgmental to the world around him. He makes a jerky remark to everything he notices. All and all Rob has a weak character which depends on other things rather than him.

Johnny, a man who comes into the record shop almost every other day, called “Irish drunk” by Rob.

Alison Ashworth, Rob’s first girlfriend, who dumped him after three days.

Penny Hardwick, Rob’s young girlfriend who would not give into his sexual demands.

Jackie Allen, Rob stole Jackie from his best friend.

Phil, Rob’s best friend when he was a kid.

Charlie Nicholson, Rob’s first college girlfriend who Rob decided was out of his league.

Sarah Kendrew, Rob called Sarah a good match because she was just as average as he was.

Setting

We only know one place that is London in England, UK.

The 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 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. 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.

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.

Personal Opinion

High Fidelity is a basic love story, but the author has made a ubiquitous theme unique by incorporating the protagonist’s undying love of music.

High Fidelity wouldn’t be as good if it outright analyzed or defined Rob, but through the perceptive, wry and often judgmental narration, we discover the character ourselves. The humour is subtle and charming, and makes it fully possible to get inside Rob’s head. The side characters are fairly well developed, but if we understood their entire personality it would diminish our sense of seeing through Rob, because he certainly doesn’t know or understand everything about them.

What I like most about High Fidelity is that despite Rob’s immaturity and flaws, Hornby creates a character you cannot help but like. This story is not perfect, but it is good.

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 humour and sadness, hope and despair. While many dialogues have 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.

Favourite Passage

“Barry’s Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.

Barry: Yea we have it.

Barry’s Customer: Well, can I have it?

Barry: No, actually, you can’t.

Barry’s Customer: Why not?

Barry: God. Do you even know your daughter? There’s no way she likes that song. Oops, is she in a coma?”

“[Rob has just placed ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on a top five list]

Barry: Oh, that’s not obvious enough Rob. How about the Beatles? Or fucking… fucking Beethoven? Side one, Track one of the Fifth Symphony… How can someone with no interest in music own a record store?”

Work done by:

Miguel Martinho Reis

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