Nick Hornby
Comments 14

A Modern Day Romance.

Love. Rejection. Heartbreak. Heartache.

Easiest things in the world to write about, aren’t they?

Everyone’s been there, so everyone can relate, can’t they?

To quote the words of Hemingway, all you need to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.

But then again, could it actually be the hardest thing to write about? Not in terms of the painful wrenching of the heart as you commit its machinations to paper, but rather because, well, let’s face it…

Has it all been said before?

I’ve had heartbreak in my life. Obviously. I never thought I was unique but I desperately clung to the belief that my particular humiliations were. And yet, the older I get and the more people I meet, the more I realise that my different heartaches have been lived through by many, down to each exacting, agonising detail. Cheated on? Check. With a good friend? Check. While you believed you were still together? Check. Check. Check. So really, what is there to add to something that has been said a million times before?

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Nick Hornby accepts this, alludes to it in fact, in his brilliant tale of suburban heartache, High Fidelity. The story is bled onto the page by our main protagonist, Rob, who’s girlfriend leaves him just as we meet him. This triggers an avalanche of self-reflection, as Rob takes us through the woeful journey of his life up to this point. He begins with a spitefully hilarious list of five girls who’s rejection of him had a far greater lasting impact than this latest bout of heartbreak, although we can read between the humour to see a familiar desperate attempt at making oneself feel better. Coupled, naturally, with loud music and whatever booze is hanging around in one’s depressing cupboard.

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…the fact is we’re too old to make each other miserable, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing…Those days are gone, and good fucking riddance to them; unhappiness really meant something back then.

Hornby constructs a life for his protagonist Nick which is so average it’s romantic. I challenge anyone who reads this book to fail to relate to some element of Nick’s character, no matter how minute. The brilliance of this books comes from the fact that Hornby refuses to follow the accepted structure of the so-called ‘romantic novel’:

  1. Relationship between protagonist and love interest breaks down through protagonists character flaws;
  2. Heartbreak and rejection is followed by self-awakening, life-reflection, a new job and a haircut;
  3. Which is generally followed by the object of the protagonists affection conveniently coming back on the scene after an unexplained absence;
  4. At which point they express surprise and delight at the changes wrought in the protagonist;
  5. After much humming and hawing, they get back together to live happily ever after.

We’ve read it. We’ve watched it. Hell, we may have even written it.

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But the thing is, have we ever lived it? I know I haven’t. I have, though, lived parts of Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’ve lived the humiliation and the self-loathing, the emptiness, the inability to establish yourself without the context of another person by your side. It’s not incredible, it’s not romantic, it’s very rarely life-changing. But it is reality. And that is what soaks every page of this fantastic book: brutal, unapologetic reality. Sure, Nick goes on a journey of ‘self-discovery’ by contacting all the ex-girlfriend’s who supposedly broke his heart, but what he finds is not some enlightening revelation about romance and life, but rather real people simply struggling to get by. Hornby shows us how we idolise and revere the relationships of our past, and in doing this he mocks us by showing us the reality of those past-lovers we hold in such high regard.

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So much of this book spoke to me, but there was one part in particular that I loved, so much so that I wrote it down.

It seems to me that if you place music (and books, probably, and films, and plays, and anything that makes you feel) at the centre of your being, then you can’t afford to sort out your love life, start to think of it as a finished product. You’ve got to pick at it, keep it alive and in turmoil, you’ve got to pick at it and unravel it until it all comes apart and you’re compelled to start all over again. Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.

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This is it. I mean, this is exactly it, the thing I have been trying to define, figure out, analyse my whole life, written down in a modern day romance.

For those of you who are sick of romances, or hate them all together, this is the book for you. It’s raw and ugly, it’s awkward and self-conscious. And it’s real. Boy, is it real.

I guess you could see it as bitterness, if you wanted to. I don’t think of myself as bitter, but I have disappointed myself; I thought I was going to turn out to be worth a bit more than this…

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14 Comments

  1. Even this review is raw and that makes it all the more powerful. I remember my late brother saying to me maybe 30 years ago, you’re either full up or full down. You’re never normal. But isn’t that normal? As we get older the peaks and troughs are less marked. Hopefully. That’s maturity and the onset of approaching mortality. This sounds a very strong read and maybe that’s why I don’t think I would attempt it. Who needs reality?

    • Very true Andrew! It certainly was a big dose of reality. I agree that my peaks and troughs are getting less marked as I grow older, which does mean that they take me by surprise when they happen!

  2. erickeys says

    This book had a profound influence on me when I read it. Thanks for bringing some of the wonder of the book back to me. I may have to go read it again.

    What really hit me about the book was its pacing. I was in the Miami airport and getting sick of the lead character’s obliviousness. I remember almost the exact words I thought: “This guy is never going to get it, never going to see how delusional he is. If he doesn’t wake up by the end of this chapter, I don’t think I can finish this book.” And by the end of the chapter he had the epiphany which turned him around and moved him from someone who lived ideas in his head into someone who lived real life.

    • I totally agree with what you say here, it actually took me a long time to finish this book. Pick it up, put it down…when I got to the end, I was initially like: ‘Oh. That’s it?’ But then as I thought about it the whole story grew on me, to the point where I realised: ‘Yes, that is exactly how it would happen.’ I’m glad you loved it too 🙂

  3. Pingback: Why this way ? | All Things In The Middle

  4. “And that is what soaks every page of this fantastic book: brutal, unapologetic reality.”

    I feel the exact same way about every Nick Hornby book I’ve ever picked up.

    • Glad we can relate Tanya! This book was my first foray into Nick Hornby, I can’t wait to get my hands on more. He has the potential to become one of my favourites…

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