High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (1995)

Taken on his merits there is not much to commend the main protagonist of Nick Hornsby's 'High Fidelity' to the reader. Rob is impetuous and sulky; obsessive and mean-spirited and capable of keeping a grudge across decades. His single-minded obsession with his relationships is not at all endearing and while he is appalled by any lack of faithfulness on the part of his lovers and friends he is himself completely at the mercy of his next infatuation. His cynical view of friendships and his tendency to evaluate his relationships in terms of what he can use them for constantly appals.

Viewed however as the expression of all of the worst characteristics that we all may have possessed in some degree at some time he is perhaps more of a sympathetic figure.

Rob is the owner of a small vinyl record shop in London. He spends his days surrounded by a sort of self-assessed ultra cool music clique fostered by himself and his employees (who are self-evidently not cool). His two staff members double as his friends despite his characterisation of them as people without lives for whom the banter in the shop constitutes their entire reason for existence. We find Rob at a point in his life when his most meaningful relationship has collapsed and he is forced to reflect on the path that has brought him to this point through an examination of all of the relationships prior, from even his early teens. In the course of exploring these issues there is also a lot of enjoyment to be had in this novel for fans of music of the vinyl record age and the particular milieu of that scene.

The story reads as a very belated coming-of-age story for someone in their mid-30s. Rob is haunted by a sense of a growing need to take responsibility for his fortunes and to confront some of the more adult challenges that he has put off, such as coming to terms with mortality and acknowledging the financial difficulties his business faces.

It is too much to suggest that Rob undergoes a transformation in the course of the story and becomes equal to these challenges, but he does seem to make small incremental improvements as he becomes aware of some his own demerits and the way they are increasingly damaging his quality of life. In that sense the novel serves to alert us all to the worst aspects of our own characters and the contest between freedom and responsibility.

Pat Hockey (Ballarat Chapter)