High Fidelity (1995) is about an English self-pitying dead-sh*t and pop music tragic called Rob Fleming, (sorry about the coy symbols but I suspect my blog master has a ‘language’ filter) who runs a second-hand record (as in vinyl) shop stocking music that no-one, well only 3 people actually, wants to listen to and treats sex with women as doses of analgesic for his bouts of self-loathing depression. I suspect that Hornby created Rob as a way to get real a*sehole straight hopeless pr*cks to read books. Considering Hornby’s success I might be right. So what is a 60-something gay man living on a tropical island doing reading old English popular fiction, lad-lit, about straight a*sehole losers? Hornby-curious. He’s successful and was recently Oscar-nominated for his screen adaptation of my literary hero, Colm Tobin’s novel, Brooklyn. He did a good job although it wasn’t Oscar material. Besides, I found it in a pile of books someone else was throwing away.
And if you haven’t heard of Nick Hornby you might just be back from 35 years on Mars.
In an attempt to find out why his life is so meaningless and lonely Rob Fleming embarks on a quest to find his five most devastating and sadistic dumpers (He’s into lists), Alison, Penny, Jackie, Charlie (no, a girl), and Sarah to ask them why they did it – he’s always the dumpee; oh, and why does he want to do this? Because his latest live-in, Laura, has just dumped him (See!) for his neighbour, Ray, he of the loud and long upstairs orgasms, and he’s worried a pattern is forming. “Doh!” as another straight, and also fictional, but animated, a*sehole loser would probably say. Yes, if Homer Simpson had a back story it would be a little bit like Rob Fleming’s, only funnier.
But Hornby did made me laugh, several times, but he confirmed my view of 30-something single straight men who navel-gaze without a clue what they’re looking at, as deserving to remain single and f*cked-up since the women they want are exactly the women who are sensible enough, or should be sensible enough, to avoid them.
Rob also thinks he’s a typical (and therefore acceptable) bloke because he doesn’t remember anyone’s birthday, except his own, and is so self-deluded that he imagines his most recent ex-lover, the sensible but messy Laura, getting together with his parents to organise a massive surprise birthday party and then literally gets upset that they didn’t tell him.
Hornby made me re-think the oft repeated, and usual female line (why is that?) that ‘you can’t like a book if you don’t like the characters.’ Rob Fleming isn’t nice. I would ‘run a mile’ if I found Rod Fleming sitting at my lunch table: I’d certainly seat him at the other end of it. Yet, Hornby, makes him self-deprecating enough and helpless enough to make you wish he would find some sort of redemption, some one to take him on, someone to pay his bills, and someone to wipe his nose and tell him that everything will be all right in the end.
And when he finally gets “a shag” with an American B-grade country-rock singer that people have actually heard of, no less, he worries all through the deed if he is doing it right: no-one ever told him about G-spots, nor those ‘tad-pole things’, and what ‘good in bed’ means … and then he worries about worrying. He’s f*ck’d!
Eventually he manages to get one of his dumpers on the phone.
“Have you got, you know, kids and stuff, like everybody else?”
“I could’ve had them if I’d wanted them. I’m too young, and they’re too …”
“Well, yes, young, obviously,” – she laughs nervously, as if I’m an idiot, which maybe I am, but not in the way she thinks – “but too … I don’t know, time-consuming, I guess is the expression I’m looking for.”
I’m not making this up. This is how she talks …
Well, Mr. Hornby, you are making this up, but giving the narrator, Rob, this to say is a little cute novelistic trick to make novelistic truth (verisimilitude) feel like real truth; the kind of truth that tickles and stimulates the reader’s suspension of disbelief so you laugh or cry at exactly the moment that the author wants you to. You may have also picked up the tone, a kind of skatz that makes you feel that all this must be true since it’s so ‘conversational’ and ‘who would make up stuff like this anyway?’ and, besides, he tells you everything! He makes you feel like you’re his best mate, so, therefore you have to like, and believe him; which is exactly what skatz is meant to do.
Does it all work? Yes! By the time he gets around to the proposal (and I won’t be mean enough to tell you which dumper gets it) I was with him all the way. It’s not the down-on-one-knee proposal (he’s never been that kind of guy, and if he was that kind of guy and found himself kneeling before her he wouldn’t be thinking of proposing, he’s be thinking of oral sex – and why not, while I’m down here) but it’s funny, cute, dorky, sweet, cringe-making, charming, and well-written, as is her reply, er, replies. Yes, it’s kind of a romance for blokes; and as the final scene unfolds, a bit like in a movie, you’ll be smiling all the way to the last page. Cue music, “Got to Get You Off my Mind” by Solomon Burke, as the ex-dumper smiles across a bopping music crowd at the ex-dumpee. A-a-h! Fade to black. The End.