High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Do people even make compilation tapes any more? The balance of songs, the running order, the relevance of the lyrics to your state of mind or the person you're making the tape for... in these times of downloadable MP3s and random playlists, it's becoming a lost art. Nick Hornby would understand. High Fidelity's main character, Rob, is a record-shop proprietor and rather elitist muso, who firmly believes that a good record collection is the only worthwhile mark of character, and that a well-made compilation tape is the ultimate seduction technique. He's now got another chance to test this strategy, as his long-term girlfriend Laura has just dumped him.
My genius, if I can call it that, is to combine a whole load of averageness into one compact frame. I'd say that there were millions like me, but there aren't, really: lots of blokes have impeccable music taste but don't read, lots of blokes read but are really fat, lots of blokes are sympathetic to feminism but have stupid beards, lots of blokes have a Woody Allen sense of humour but look like Woody Allen. Lots of blokes drink too much, lots of blokes behave stupidly when they drive cars, lots of blokes get into fights, or show off about money, or take drugs. I don't do any of those things, really; if I do OK with women it's not because of the virtues I have, but because of the shadows I don't have.
Hornby does a great job of showing us Rob's character - nerdy, self-absorbed and a bit of an arsehole, but still quite a decent guy who you're mostly rooting for. The chatty and readable first-person narrative takes us through Rob's recollections of his past girlfriends and his attempts to find a pattern in why they all dumped him, as well as his current problems with his dead-end life, his interfering mother, and his burning jealousy over Laura's new man. In terms of structure, this is exactly the kind of story you'd expect from a '90s British comedy film - we meet the eccentric characters, a few funny things happen, then something serious happens, then it all sort of works out for the feelgood ending - but as '90s British comedy goes, it's very entertaining, and it's hard to read without a smile on your face. Good summer reading.