Nick Hornby Essay - Critical Essays

Nick Hornby Long Fiction Analysis

Nick Hornby is considered a major writer of “lad lit,” a contemporary genre that critics refer to as the male equivalent of “chick lit.” Representative of lad lit, his novels generally take place in urban settings and feature characters who are most often single and in their thirties. They are forever seeking romantic relationships with women while maintaining a stereotypically masculine appreciation for sports and drinking. His characters struggle with identity issues as well as concerns with romance, and they usually display comical characteristics that border on neurosis. Frequently, they are obsessive and engage in self-reflection. They fret over self-image and are fashion conscious and concerned with portraying themselves as hip.

As critic Mikko Keskinen points out, Hornby’s first novel, High Fidelity, epitomizes the British author’s oeuvre, which is populated by male monomaniacs, perennial bachelors, or early middle-age adolescents. The football enthusiast in Fever Pitch, the commitment-avoiding womanizer in About a Boy, and the seemingly saintly men in How to Be Good can be read as versions of Rob Fleming, the protagonist and narrator of High Fidelity.

Hornby’s novels reflect the bildungsroman tradition, as they can be classified as coming-of-age novels. Even though the protagonists of High Fidelity and About a Boy are in their mid-thirties, they have yet to cross the threshold from adolescence to adulthood in terms of emotional maturity. They develop from characters who meander around without goals and drift from one personal relationship to another, and from those characters who move into adulthood by discovering a sense of self and finding a more focused view of life.

Throughout his works, Hornby frequently alludes to popular culture, especially music and sports but also political figures, local establishments, and brand names. He describes avid fans such as the protagonist of Slam, who idolizes skateboarder Tony Hawk, and he portrays his own personal obsession with football in his memoir Fever Pitch.

In an interesting twist, just as popular culture has influenced Hornby’s works, Hornby’s works have influenced popular culture. The popularity of Fever Pitch has been credited with helping raise public opinion about football, making it more fashionable in English culture, especially in political and literary circles. After the book was published, English political leaders began to announce teams they rooted for and other authors began to write about the game and voice support for particular teams.

Hornby also is a comic writer whose humorous style is comparable to Martin Amis, Tony Parsons, and Julian Barnes. In addition to one-liners, he teases his characters by making light of their insecurities, obsessions, and failed attempts to reach manhood. However, his wit often expresses a character’s epiphany or sparks a human truth. For example, his novel A Long Way Down uses black humor to illustrate the plight of four characters who contemplate suicide.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity, Hornby’s first novel, remains his most significant fictional work. The novel concerns thirty-five-year-old Rob Fleming, who owns Championship Vinyl, a record store in London. Rob’s girlfriend Laura has left him, which leads him to make a list of his five most memorable breakups. This list establishes a pattern that recurs throughout the novel, in which Rob lists things such as his top five jobs, top five films, and his favorite records. These lists reflect Rob’s obsessive tendencies, also revealed through his desire for Laura and his record collection. As critic Barry Faulk notes: Rob’s internal monologue summarizes and evaluates his past. His constant exhumation of his romantic biography cannot be separated from his connoisseurship of rock. Rob’s experiences, both erotic and audio, social and private, become filtered and ordered through a grid familiar to the pop fanatic: the top-five list.

Rob recalls that he first arranged the records chronologically; when Laura was in his life, he arranged them alphabetically. He...

(The entire section is 1729 words.)