Why High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is librarian Tom's favourite lockdown book

With our treasured libraries across West Sussex remaining closed during the coronavirus outbreak, we continue to connect with our librarians through our My Favourite Book series.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 6:00 pm
Tom Batten - My Favourite Book
Tom Batten - My Favourite Book

This week, Tom Batten, librarian – books, reading & engagement at Worthing Library, tells us why High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is the top of his list.

“High Fidelity tells the story of Rob, a music obsessed record shop owner who has just been left by his long-term girlfriend.

“Seeking to find out where his relationship went wrong he decides to reconnect with his top five most memorable split-ups.

“I would classify it as a comedy and a love story albeit one without romance. The first time I read it would have been during my A-levels back in 2001. It was a formative time for me as I was making friends with the people I still consider my best friends as well as really finding my taste in music. Although I was aware of Nick Hornby, I actually came to the book having watched the 2000 film starring John Cusack. Of course a music obsession was the thing that really struck a chord with me, while the book shows you that you can become a little too lost in a subject as illustrated through Rob’s employees Barry and Dick as well as himself.

“While I was very single when I read the book, it does still provide a warning to “not be like Rob” until he eventually learns to appreciate the every-day nature of a relationship rather than chasing an unobtainable fantasy.

“I think Hornby’s real skill in the novel is that he has created a character that from the outset is unlikeable. The book opens with him outlining his five worst break-ups and he acts despicably in at least two of them.

“In spite of that you find yourself wanting him to succeed. That has not really changed with my many re-readings (I think I am up to four and am due another), his complaints seem pettier over time but I support him nonetheless. The book has had such an impact on me that at university I recorded it as a radio play.

“Although this is the high watermark so far, I have enjoyed everything that I have read by Hornby. About A Boy was a great two character coming of age story in which the adult was once again stuck in adolescence. A Long Way Down found a comedic way of looking at depression while Juliet Naked was probably the closest in tone to High Fidelity. The BBC also recently broadcast State of the Union, a series of ten-minute shorts in which a married couple meet for drinks before going to couples therapy, perhaps how Rob would deal with relationship problems today.

“I really enjoyed the film adaptation. It takes the bold decision of relocating it from North London to Chicago but it does not suffer at all. It also introduced me to Jack Black being… Jack Black but that was very entertaining on first viewing. I see that there’s due to be a TV series in which the gender roles are reversed. I’d be very interested to see it having always felt that an obsession with making top five lists was a very male character trait but it is such stereotypes that may now date the original. The other thing that really ages it is Rob making mixtapes. Much as vinyl has made a comeback, the day of mixtapes and in my case mix CDs seem to be gone and making someone a playlist doesn’t really have the same impact. I would still recommend this book to others as it is a very enjoyable and easy read, not everyone will appreciate Rob but if they can, all the better.”

Following the latest advice in relation to COVID-19, all West Sussex Libraries are closed until further notice, but there are thousands of eBooks, eAudiobooks, eComics, eMagazines and eNewspapers available free to library members via the eLibrary service. Visit: http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/elibrary to explore the collection and join online.

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