I took High Fidelity as my holiday reading when I realised I’d already read all the other Penguin Classics in the airport bookshop. High Fidelity is the story of a 30-something deadbeat who decides his life is over as his long-term girlfriend leaves him because he’s a massive, whingey, manipulative jerk. After some soul searching, mainly centred around tearing down the other deadbeats who frequent his failing record store and having awkward sex with a folk musician, he contacts all the women who have dumped him in the past in an attempt to find out what it is that makes him a deadbeat – and maybe even fix it.
So far, we’re doing well, at about two-thirds through a novel of stubborn, entitled whinging.
Finally a few of the women agree to meet him – to go out of their lives and talk about their past with him. Like that Adele song, and in many ways just as annoying. Not because there’s no value in this, but this fucker waltzes into their hesitantly open arms and immediately proves any caution correct by systematically cutting down their achievements; presumably to make himself feel better about being the most ungrateful tosser in England. Delicate though Hornby’s portraiture is, I resent knowing this stagnant character so intimately, and with so little in-text reward peppered against the humiliation of his otherwise subtle, human women characters and goddamn lists of Beatles records.
No revelation is reached. His most immediate ex returns to him because her father has died, and well, it’s just too hard to think about dating again right now. He’s overjoyed, because being the “Eh, F it” option is the best he’s achieved so far, and instantly considers cheating on her again. He comes to the realisation that it’s his own fear of death that makes him unable to settle, and we leave the happy (?) couple with their old disco night set up again to the delight of their community. By her. She set it up. For him. Because cheating on her, owing thousands in debt to her, getting weirdly aggressive over an unplanned pregnancy, and then spitting on a series of women whom he asks to help him while complaining about his life for a few hundred pages, that’s what makes a keeper.
There’s definitely value in a book like this. It’s an accurate and subtly crafted portrayal of a man like many, and his eventual realisations are poignant, delicate things that many may never be able to glimpse in the same way Hornby helps deliver. What irks me is why people for some reason walked away from it with an overall impression of “Good, fluffy, fun book about records” rather than an “Excruciating portrait of a man with the self-awareness of a bowl of rancid cereal milk.” Recommended for people who like desert island lists of classic rock records sprinkled through their brutal reminders of how fucking low-key terrible people can be. Pick it up at a hostel in Brisbane beneath a dent in the drywall.
Pair it with: straight tequila
Richard En just can’t stand ska
“Fresh Summer Reads: High Fidelity” by Richard Moore. First published by Pelican Magazine online, February 6, 2016.