Nick Hornby Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nick Hornby has come to define a certain populist strain in British fiction in the 1990’s and at the turn of the millennium. He was born in Highbury in suburban north London, where he continued to live and which provided the settings for his books. His parents divorced when he was a boy; his mother’s relative poverty and his father’s more affluent lifestyle in France with his second family affected Hornby’s choice of friends and pastimes, including collecting pop music and watching football (soccer). The latter, which began as a way of forging a relationship with his father during his infrequent visits, became a lifelong obsession, described in his memoir, Fever Pitch. Hornby graduated from Cambridge with an English degree, then worked as a teacher and journalist, contributing to magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Elle, Time, Vogue, and The New Republic. He also served as the pop music critic for The New Yorker; his fascination with music formed the basis of his first novel, High Fidelity. Hornby’s stable marriage served as a contrast to the chronically restless and promiscuous lives of his characters. The demands of caring for his autistic son, Danny, revealed a maturer, more responsible side to Hornby, who edited the short-story anthology Speaking with the Angel as a fund-raising project in support of autistic children.

Hornby’s aesthetic principles can be gleaned from his critical text, Contemporary American Fiction, in which he makes clear his admiration for American writers such as Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, and Tobias Wolff, known as “dirty realists” for their gritty, working-class characters and settings as well as their plain,...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Nick Hornby was raised in Maidenhead, England, where he attended Maidenhead Grammar School. During his adolescence, his parents divorced, and Hornby spent weekends with his father watching Arsenal football games. He later attended Jesus College in Cambridge and studied English. He spent a few years teaching, but the tediousness of the job prompted him to pursue a full-time writing career. While working for Samsung, where he taught Korean employees, he remained in journalism and published articles in distinguished periodicals such as The Sunday Times, Esquire, Vogue, GQ, Time, and The Independent. The commercial success of Fever Pitch provided him with the means to focus exclusively on his writing career.

As it is in his novels, music is important in Hornby’s personal life. He frequently collaborates with the rock band Marah and has toured with the band, sometimes appearing on stage to read essays he has written about music.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nick Hornby was born on April 17, 1957, in Redhill, England, the son of Sir Derek Hornby, a successful businessman, and Margaret Hornby, a secretary. His parents’ marriage dissolved when he was eleven; Sir Derek moved to houses in both France and the United States, while Margaret continued to work as a secretary in the northern suburbs of London. Hornby lived with his mother, with occasional visits to his father, and the sharp contrast in his parents’ respective economic classes, by his own later admission, provided a kind of joint cultural identity, torn between the luxurious affluence of his prosperous father and the sensible, if comparatively sparse, middle-class comforts of his mother.

During his childhood, Hornby discovered the passions that would later feature prominently in his writing. A youthful occupation with reading, particularly comic books and children’s literature, cemented his interest in the printed word. A fascination with popular music, ranging from the British rock bands of the mid-1960’s to the louder and more bohemian groups emerging from the American and British punk scenes, provided distractions from his fractured home life. Above all, Hornby developed a deep passion for Arsenal, a professional soccer team located in the Highbury section of north London. During Hornby’s formative years, Arsenal had a spate of poor luck. Perennial losers, the Arsenal team nonetheless offered Hornby a sort of cultural identity, though even in the terraces of Highbury this identity remained fractured; the bulk of Arsenal fans were working class. For the middle-class son of a knighted millionaire to support a solidly blue-collar team took a certain amount of social gymnastics, but Hornby loved his trips to the stadium, and the team would remain a source of passionate fascination.

Upon completing secondary school, Hornby attended Cambridge, where he studied English. The experience was a frustrating one; Hornby would later claim that studying literature at the university stunted his development as a writer, imposing upon him a dry and scholarly style that he was unable to ably replicate. After college Hornby held a variety of jobs, ranging from English teacher to corporate representative for Samsung. Frustrated by his life, Hornby turned, slowly, toward literary endeavors.


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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nick Hornby’s popularity is likely related to the accessibility of his novels, which, in turn, is a byproduct of his style. The relatively simple, yet eloquent, diction of his prose, interspersed with both slang and profanity, accents the realism of his work, which in turn makes the existential crises faced by Rob and Will recognizable to readers. The specifically British settings may be deeply ingrained into the substance of the work, but the broader issues and the broader questions his characters confront are such that a change in dialect or accent in no way diminishes them. Film adaptations have shifted the location of Fever Pitch to Boston and High Fidelity to Chicago, but the thematic content in both cases remains unaltered. This success serves as testament to the universality of Hornby’s work and the extent of his appeal.