Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 951

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.

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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.

Hornby’s first efforts at writing were screenplays, but he judged these efforts poorly, considering them failures. Feeling cramped by the style that had been imposed upon him in college, able to communicate authentically only through dialogue but still unsure of his voice, Hornby struggled for a time. In the mid-1980’s he discovered a number of American writers who would exercise a considerable influence upon him, among them Raymond Carver, Anne Tyler, and Lorrie Moore. The simplicity of their style, coupled with the sympathetic warmth and humor present in their works, seemed to Hornby to be absent from contemporary English fiction and inspired him to replicate their literary success in an indelibly English setting.

Hornby’s first published works, however, were nonfiction. Working as a journalist, Hornby had written articles for a variety of mainstream publications in both England and the United States. His first book, Contemporary American Fiction, a collection of critical essays examining the works of his American literary heroes, appeared in 1992 and marked Hornby’s initial sojourn into criticism, an area in which he would later distinguish himself.

However, it was his second book, Fever Pitch (1992), that brought distinction. A memoir of his obsession with Arsenal, Fever Pitch is a collection of essays examining not only the Arsenal teams of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s but, more important, the nature of obsession with sport and, by extension, the nature of obsession itself. Hornby’s identification with Arsenal had not faded with age; rather it had become more integral to his existence and the London team’s frustrations had come to closely mirror his own. While Fever Pitch is distinctly English in its content, the book’s broad appeal extends beyond London devotees of soccer; the overriding theme of male obsession with sports, often at the expense of all else, is a universal one.

Though not a novel, Fever Pitch established many of the elements that would come to dominate Hornby’s fiction. The theme of male obsession, in this case with a sports team, would feature prominently in Hornby’s first novel, High Fidelity (1995), a work that examines the nature of sex and friendship from a specifically male perspective with a healthy mix of sincerity and irony. Garnering both critical and commercial success, the novel announced Hornby’s presence as a legitimate voice in contemporary literature. Following High Fidelity, Hornby wrote the more ambitious About a Boy (1998), a best seller that further cemented his growing reputation.

Having established himself as a commercially viable and critically acclaimed author, Hornby’s subsequent writings demonstrated an increased scope. Building on the success of About a Boy, Hornby spent a decade examining the pitfalls of contemporary life from a variety of perspectives, including female voices. How to Be Good (2001) examines a practical vision of ethics, and A Long Way Down (2005) explores the psyche of a collection of suicidal characters. Hornby has also established himself as a refreshing critical voice, examining both popular music and literature with personal candor that, although not scholarly, is nonetheless insightful.

The birth of his son Danny, who would be later diagnosed with autism, led Hornby to organize the publication of Speaking with the Angel (2000), a collection of writings by himself and several of his literary peers, to raise money for Treehouse, a small school for autistic children. In the early twenty-first century, Hornby was living in Highbury in north London, not far from the stadium where Arsenal plays its home matches. He also was working on a screenplay and contributed regularly to a variety of publications.

Biography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

Nick Hornby was born in 1958, in London, England and is the son of Sir Derek Hornby, a successful British businessman. Hornby went to Cambridge where he majored in literature and tried his hand at writing plays. After college, he worked as both an English teacher and as a journalist.

Hornby’s first book was published in 1992. It was called Fever Pitch, a story based on his love of the Arsenal Football Club. (Football in this case is what Americans know as soccer.)  The book was a huge success and was adapted to film both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Hornby’s reputation as a writer soared after this, and he published many essays in the New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement in England. His topics often are based on sports or music.

High Fidelity, Hornby’s first work of fiction, was published in 1995. This too was adapted for film, as well as for stage as a musical. John Cusack played the protagonist, Rob Fleming, in the movie. Hornby’s second novel, About a Boy, was published in 1998 and a cinematic version debuted in 2002.

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