Nick Hornby World Literature Analysis
Hornby’s work has long been categorized among the so-called “lad-lit” novels of the latter half of the twentieth century—novels written by male authors focusing upon relationships from a specifically male perspective. Certainly the archetypal “lad lit” protagonist—a single, thirty-something man, whose personal and professional life is stunted by his own immaturity—seems an apt description of both Rob from High Fidelity and Will from About a Boy, but to assume that Hornby is nothing more than a contributor to a widely defunct popular literature movement minimizes his contributions to contemporary writing. Hornby’s work, though widely imitated, is largely original.
Hornby’s fiction is notable for its realism. His characters are instantly recognizable and believable, though never mere stereotypes. These realistic characters are placed in realistic situations; Hornby is content to consider the nature of contemporary life by focusing only upon the ordinary details of ordinary men and women. His prose follows suit, as the stylistic hallmark of Hornby’s novels is directness. There is an authenticity to this style; Hornby’s characters, though insightful, are never erudite, and as such their words accurately reflect their levels of education and intelligence.
Hornby’s tone is characterized by the seemingly contradictory presence of both sincerity and irony. The irony stems from the occasionally bitter, occasionally playful sarcasm that characterizes Hornby’s sense of humor. The sincerity stems from revelations of emotion stemming from failed relationships, superficial friendships, and strained love affairs. Hornby’s presentation of modern men and women is one of alienation, largely of a character’s own making. The focus upon the trivial, at the expense of the vital, allows one to create a world where one is temporarily immune to the pain of daily life; it is only when that world is inevitably invaded by its own pitiful reality that Hornby’s characters must seek to address their own spiritual, emotional, and moral failings. It is only then that these characters grow up.
The search for self-actualization, on however small a scale, is the preeminent theme of Hornby’s work. While Hornby’s characters are neither heroic nor villainous, it is their occupation in a sort of middle ground that makes them accessible and endearing to the reader. However detestable their actions, they are still generally good people with real potential, and however likable their personas they are still very flawed people with real limitations. To both their credit and their distress, Hornby’s characters are fully aware of both their failings and their successes. Self-awareness seems like a burden before it acts as the catalyst for real growth and, though no heroes are born, complete adult men and women emerge.
First published: 1995
Type of work: Novel
Following the dissolution of his latest relationship, record store owner, popular music enthusiast, and inveterate serial-dater Rob Fleming attempts to make sense of his personal life.
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...
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