Introduction

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

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

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.)