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Nick Hornby: High Fidelity

The trouble with Rob Fleming, hero of this novel and, presumably, the author, Nick Hornby, is that they grew up in the 1970s when, as everyone knows, music was crap. Think Abba, disco, Chinn/Chapman, Elton John, the post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac, the Philly sound, Carly Simon and James Taylor. Sure, it wasn’t all bad. The Brits had punk rock and pub rock for a few minutes but Fleming pays them scarcely any attention, apart from, eventually, sticking White Man in Hammersmith Palais in his top five and wittily having a main squeeze whose last name is the same as Johnny Rotten’s. His defining album, for God’s sake, is Revolver. Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors is one of his favourite songs! I’d like my life to be like a Bruce Springsteen song. And he wonders why girls dump him!

Fleming is the ultimate anal retentive, always making lists, with his friends, of various musical categories. Some of them are amusing, such as Top Five Bands or Musicians Who Will Have to Be Shot Come the Musical Revolution, which includes, of course, Michael Bolton, Genesis and Simple Minds (the book was probably written before Garth Brooks became really obnoxious and, anyway, the Brits have had the good taste not to worship him the way he is worshipped in the USA.) He even starts off by listing the top five most memorable split-ups (mainly they dumped him). He counts the number of women he slept with, focusing only on the quantity and not the quality, a typical guy thing. At least Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral had the decency to comment on the quality.

It’s not that he’s a loser – most of us are – that turns us off Fleming or that he seems unsure what he wants, in love, career or favourite music – many of us have that problem. It’s not even that he’s stuck in that 70s music thing (much of which is really a 60s hangover). It’s that he has no redeeming features. There’s nothing to be said in his favour. He can’t even be a complete bastard, turning down a chance to snag some of the great records of all time for fifty pounds from a disgruntled wife because he doesn’t want to cheat the husband (whom he has never met) who has gone off to Spain with his popsy.

Think of some of the great literary losers, such as Oblomov or Ignatius J Reilly, and you will find that, despite the fact they are bigger losers than Fleming, they have their endearing qualities, which makes them literary winners. I love Ignatius and Oblomov. Frankly, I don’t care a damn about Fleming and what happens to him, whether Laura takes him back or not, whether his record shop goes under, whether he gets to fuck Marie or Caroline.

The book was hailed because, to quote Harry Enfield (a comedian, not a writer, whose literary fame rests on a tome called Cowardy Cowardy Cutlass) it is a very funny and concise explanation of why we men are as we are. If that is so, that might explain why there are more lesbians around these days.

Publishing history

First published 1995 by Victor Gollancz