Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a hilarious trip through the mind of a thirty-something single male who cannot decide what he wants to do with his life. Readers observe the day-to-day monotony of the narrator, Rob Fleming, as he second-guesses every decision he has ever made. Rob owns a record store called Championship Vinyl in which he sells second-hand records. He is a fanatic when it comes to music. He loves classic pop, but he spends much of his day criticizing his customers, most of whom know nothing of the music that Rob sells. Joining Rob in the sarcastic remarks that are made behind his customers’ backs are Dick and Barry, Rob’s two associates and music-loving buddies.
Rob is also helplessly in love with Laura, though he will not admit it. As the story opens, Laura has left him for Ian, a man who used to live in the upstairs apartment. The breakup was not all Laura’s fault. Rob had told her he might be interested in another woman; then he went out and had an affair. So she left him for Ian, who turns out to be a sorry substitute.
Rob has a huge problem with commitment, not just with Laura, but also with everything about his life. He was at the top of his game when he was a disc jocky. He has a knack with music, knowing what will keep a group dancing and engaged. But he does not do that anymore. He does not do much of anything except reminisce about his past, trying to figure out where he went wrong. And when he is not reminiscing, he is looking for a woman to go to bed with. That always restores his confidence, at least for a few minutes.
In the end, after Laura’s father dies, Laura and Rob get back together. But it remains a struggle. Laura tells Rob that she sees his potential. However, Rob appears blind to his own good qualities. He is ridiculously lacking in confidence. Even after he has Laura back in his arms, he is easily enticed by another woman. Will he ever learn?
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Rob Fleming enjoys compiling lists of his top five choices in various categories, and he begins narrating his story by listing his top five most memorable breakups. Rob describes each of these failed relationships, from first meeting a woman to dating her to the inevitable rejection. His purpose in detailing these painful experiences for his readers is to explain to them why his most recent breakup, with his girlfriend Laura, does not qualify for the list. Rob expounds on several lessons learned, such as the fact that teenage boys and girls have vastly different opinions about sex. Each analysis includes a rebuke to Laura and her apparently inconsequential rejection of Rob.
At the climax of that rejection, Laura has packed her bags and is leaving the apartment she shares with Rob. The parting is uncomfortable and awkward, yet Rob feels relief when she finally leaves. He is already contemplating his new life and planning to redecorate his apartment.
Feeling good, Rob heads to Championship Vinyl, the record store he owns. He converses with his employee Dick about a new mix tape he made, but the subject of Laura does not come up. Rob’s other employee, Barry, arrives later in the day, and the three men argue about the store’s current music selection. Rob often employs various means of dealing with emotional stress in isolation, including listening to Beatles albums and reorganizing his record collection in the order that he bought the albums.
Rob finally tells his friends about Laura, but only after he has a fight with Barry that culminates in an angry outburst. Once things calm down, Rob’s friends take him to a show at a pub to cheer him up. Rob immediately falls for the musician, Marie LaSalle, and begins crying when she sings a stirring rendition of a Peter Frampton song. She strikes up a conversation with the men, and they encourage her to stop by Championship Vinyl.
Laura contacts Rob, saying she wants to come by and pick up a few things from the apartment. Rob also talks to their mutual friend Liz, who calls to offer her support. During the conversation, Liz mentions that Laura is seeing someone named Ian. Rob has no idea who this could be, until he remembers a former neighbor named I. Raymond, known as Ray. Rob analyzes every moment Laura spent with Ray during the time he lived above them,...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
High Fidelity, Hornby’s first novel, immediately establishes both the tone and the thematic content of the work upon the first page. Rob Fleming, following the departure of his girlfriend Laura, ruminates upon his past relationships, creating a top-five list of his most devastating break-ups. In a prolonged apostrophe to the recently departed Laura, Rob explores how these relationships, ranging from his first kiss as an adolescent to his first adult love affairs, altered his perspective forever. The narrator’s self-awareness becomes immediately apparent, as even his ironic detachment seems to provide emotional context, as does his unique organizational patterns of thought that will hold true throughout the entire novel. Rob is a man who arranges his thoughts, whether personal, professional, or trivial, in “top-five” lists. While some of these lists reveal no more than his favorite films or songs, others reveal the innermost workings of his mind.
The novel focuses upon the aftermath of Rob’s breakup with Laura, taking the reader on a tour through the narrator’s fractured psyche. Having opened the door to old memories in the opening apostrophic rant, Rob will find himself treading through the past repeatedly. Initially this pilgrimage into memory is little more than sentimentality, but closer investigation brings Rob to seek insight from his past romantic mistakes. Amid the daily business of running a failing record store, listening to...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Hornby’s High Fidelity features Rob Fleming, the thirty-five-year-old narrator who sees the world through not rose-tinted glasses but rather lenses with a gray tinge. Rob is a gloomy character, continually lacking in confidence and therefore constantly second-guessing himself. The novel begins with Rob listing (he makes a lot of lists, throughout the novel) the five most significant girls/women of his life. He is doing this because the most noteworthy of all, Laura Lydon, has just left him. Laura and Rob had been living together for two years. Rob makes this list of women to prove to himself (and to Laura) that Laura was not even close to causing him the biggest heartache. This is totally untrue; but it is the only way that Rob can lift his spirits.
The first girlfriend on Rob’s list is Alison Ashworth. She gave him his first kiss. The relationship lasted three days. Then Alison switched to the next guy on the playground bench. The second girl on the list is Penny Hardwick, who refused to give in to Rob’s sexual advances. Soon after as they broke up, Penny gave herself to the class Romeo, Chris Thomson. This sent Rob down a bumpy road as he tried to figure out why he had so little personal luck with women. Rob stole the third girl, Jackie Allen, from his best friend, Phil. Turns out that after Rob was victorious in this conquest, he lost interest in Jackie.
Then Rob’s reminiscing timeframe jumps ahead two years to 1977, when Rob was in college. He figured that this was a new level of his life. Girls he meets from now on are not going to know anything about his childhood unless he wants to tell them certain facts. These older, college girls will not be aware of all his past failures with females. The first college girl’s name was Charlie Nicholson, and right from the start Rob knew he was in way over his head. Charlie was beautiful, talented, intelligent, and very popular. The two of them stayed together for two years. All the while, Rob had trouble understanding what Charlie saw in him. Eventually Charlie must have questioned her reasoning too because she left Rob for a man named Marco.
Sarah Kendrew came next, in 1984. Rob explains his attraction to Sarah. Rob redefined himself after Charlie and came to the conclusion that he was merely average. What he found good about Sarah was that she was average too. Therefore, in this regard, he and Sarah got along because they were well matched. Also Sarah had recently been dumped. Both of them have low self-regard. But even Sarah, after two years with Rob, told him she had found another man.
Then Rob met Laura. But now Laura is gone. Rob says that Laura cannot hurt him because all these other women have already hurt him. He claims to be tougher than he used to be, though readers are quite aware that all he does...
(The entire section is 1151 words.)