Introduction

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358

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.

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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?

Extended Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1151

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 is think about Laura.
 
The novel, through Rob’s narration, is now up to the present time of the story, which is somewhere in the 1990s. Rob runs a second-hand record shop called Championship Vinyl. The store is small and dingy. Helping him run the business (which is not doing very well) are two associates named Dick and Barry. The three of them have a strange relationship. None of them seem to have many friends. They are all social misfits and do not have much to show for their lives. The one thing they have in common is a love of music.

Rob stays in touch with Laura through daily phone calls to where she works (Laura is a lawyer) and through Liz, Laura’s close friend. Although he misses her, Rob often yells at Laura during their phone calls, making her feel guilty about leaving him even though Rob is the one who had an affair. Laura has left Rob for a man who used to live in the apartment above them. The man’s name is Ian, and Rob and Laura used to make fun about all the noises they heard coming through their ceiling whenever Ian brought a woman home for the night. Laura swears that she and Ian have not made love. One of the persistent questions that Rob asks Laura is if Ian is better than he is in bed. Rob also talks a lot with Liz to find out what Laura is doing or how Laura feels about him or about Ian. At one point, Rob calls Laura so often that Ian threatens to turn him over to the police for harassment.

To keep his mind off Laura, Rob goes with Dick and Barry to a pub called the “Harry Lauder.” An American singer/songwriter, Marie LaSalle, is performing there. Marie’s songs make Rob cry. Her songs make Rob admit to himself how much he misses Laura. But in short time, he ends up in bed with Marie. Neither Marie nor Rob are emotionally involved with one another. Though they do end up as friends.

In an attempt to build his confidence, which Laura’s leaving him has all but destroyed, Rob calls all his old girlfriends that he listed in the beginning of this story. He discovers that some of them like him more than he realized. Their relationships ended for reasons other than the ones he had concluded; and he also finds that he is no longer attracted to any of them. He only wants Laura.

Laura calls him one day. She is emotionally distraught. Her father has died and she wants Rob to go with her to the funeral. After the funeral, Laura admits that she misses Rob. Ian was just an excuse for her to pull away, she tells Rob. She needed to sort out what her true feelings were for Rob. The emotional blow from her father’s death makes her realize that she still loves Rob and wants to come back.

After moving back in and though their relationship still has many problems to solve, Laura and Rob open up to one another as each tries to explain what they like and don’t like about one another. In an attempt to help Rob focus on getting his life together, Laura surprises Rob by renting a club and advertising a dance with Rob as DJ. Laura had fallen in love with Rob when he worked in a club as a DJ. She believes this is what Rob loves to do best. Reluctantly Rob admits that Laura is right. He does become infatuated with a female reporter who comes to the club to interview him; and he almost falls for her. But by the end of the novel, he seems to have learned his lesson and is showing signs that he is ready to commit himself to Laura.

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