Sunday, 8 July 2007

Book Review - High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Laugh-out-loud midlife crisis hilarity for boys and girls alike

First published in 1996, 'High Fidelity' is now a million-copy bestseller, a Hollywood film starring John Cusack, and perhaps lesser known as one of those frank, honest novels that will occupy a place amongst the much-loved-easy-reads of the 90s, perhaps forever. It follows the story of pop-musically obsessed Rob Fleming, the owner of a record store in his thirties, who has just broken up with his long term girlfriend Laura and is in the midst of a sort of mid-life reassessment of his attitude towards women, and his inability to ‘settle-down’.

Unsurprisingly for a man who measures everything in his life by writing ‘top-five lists’, this reassessment takes the form of his ‘Top Five Most Memorable Break-ups’, on which Laura does not appear (a mark, perhaps, of Rob’s inability to come to terms with another failed relationship). By describing these break-ups one by one, Rob tells us of his past misery with women, whilst reminding us of his present struggle through colourful and heart-wrenchingly familiar descriptive renditions of his life at the record store and his interactions with his two desperately sad best friends and employees, Dick and Barry.

In the hands of lesser writers, such a plot could easily have dissolved into unreadable psycho-babbling trash about the condition of the nineties’ ‘new-man’, and yet Hornby has managed to avoid this fate entirely. What emerges from the ashes of Rob Fleming’s past relationships is a witty, insightful comment on a man stuck in a post-adolescent obsession with his favourite records, entirely confused as to the nature of the opposite sex.

Hornby’s ability to create archetypes dominates: you will undoubtedly know someone just like Rob Fleming. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, at other times touching, and always starkly insightful, Hornby’s first novel cannot fail to entertain even the most reluctant of readers.

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