Review: High Fidelity

by Kim on February 25, 2009 · 10 comments

It’s hard for me to imagine imagine Rob, the main character of High Fidelity as anyone other than John Cusack because of his awesome performance in the movie version. When I picked up the book version of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, I know I was going to want to see the movie again to compare the two.  Happily, I was equally as charmed with the book as I have always been with the movie and can enthusiastically recommend both.

High Fidelity begins with Rob, a thirtysomething British pop music junkie, trying to deal with his breakup with his live-in girlfriend Laura. Rob owns a record shop, Championship Vinyl, which he runs with the help of “the musical moron twins” Dick and Barry, and the three spend their days coming up with more and more obscure top five lists to share with one another.

Rob’s life is pretty much going nowhere, so he starts to reassess after the breakup by going back through his previous, most-memorable breakups to see what he’s done wrong.  However, when Laura’s life takes a turn for the worst, the two are shoved back together and have to decide whether to try again or just leave things alone.

Although I really enjoyed reading this book, it’s hard for me to say whether it left me feeling happy or disappointed, but give me a little space to explain before you decide whether to read the book or not. To start, I was surprised at how much I felt like I had in common with Rob (and to some extent, Laura) — things like trying to figure out where life is going, wondering about past decisions and their impact on the future, and trying to figure out what it means to be in an adult relationship with someone.

Rob and Laura’s relationship isn’t about roses and chocolates, it’s about finding someone that makes you feel comfortable and that you feel like you want to take care of. In that respect, the book isn’t as drippy and saccharine as most other stories entirely about relationships can be, which is something that I appreciated. Here’s a quote (SPOILER) that shows sort of what I mean:

That’s what I thought it was all going to be like when I was married… I thought there was going to be this sexy woman with a sexy voice and lots of sexy eye makeup whose devotion shown from every pore… I’m beginning to get used to the idea that Laura might be the person I spend my life with, I think… But it’s much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negligees and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances, has no basis in reality at all.

In some ways, it made me happy to read a book that takes adult relationships honestly, but in other ways is sort of made me sad because I’m not as old as Rob and don’t feel quite a ready to give up on the whole romantic idea. Not to say that I have to because of reading this book, just that portrayal of relationships in High Fidelity seems more real to me, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that realness, if that makes any sense.  Any disappointment I felt when finishing the story had nothing to do with how well-written or funny the book was, only my interpretation of the story and my relationship to relationships (ha ha :) ).

Right after I finished the book, my friend Kimberly and I decided to watch the movie version of High Fidelity starting John Cusack as Rob, plus Jack Black and Barry and Tim Robbins as Ian (my two personal favorites).  I’d seen the movie before, so it was sort of like coming home to an old friend.  I think Cusack is fantastic as Rob — his long monologues to the camera are spot on.  Black and Robbins were great in their roles, as was Todd Lousio as Dick.  We were both impressed as how faithfully the the screenplay followed the book, all the way down to exact conversations in that took place at Championship Vinyl.

I don’t think I could pick whether I liked the book of movie better.  I think I sympathize with Rob more in the book, but the movie is charming and funny in its own way.  I’d recommend both book and movie for readers/viewers that enjoy quirky characters and stories full of pop culture references, but only if you’re ready for a story that doesn’t treat romance like a Disney movie.

Thoughts on High Fidelity: The Book versus High Fidelity: The Movie?  What do you think of the protrayal of relationships in the book or movie?  Realistic or unrealistic?  Depressing or comfortable?  Has Disney created unrealistic expectations about love that a book like High Fidelity could remedy?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) February 25, 2009 at 11:57 am

Wow this takes me back! It’s been years since I saw the film, and even longer since I read the book. I can’t remember much about either – I think that shows they were both very average.

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Dorte H February 25, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I have neither read nor watched High Fidelity. I like the idea of a book taking adult relationships seriously, though. I think one could say the same happens in the ending of About a Boy (I sometimes let my students read the second chapter of this book because the main character is so provoking in the eyes of the girls)

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Florinda February 25, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I have a post up today on the “which first: book or movie?” question: http://www.3rsblog.com/2009/02/bookmovie-chickeneggthe-which-comes.html

I loved both the book and movie versions of “High Fidelity,” but this was a case where I was dubious about the movie before I saw it because I liked the book so much. I think you make a good case here that each version has its own merits and each one can be good; it may not matter that much which one comes first, and one form doesn’t have to be better than the other. I like your observations about the story, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

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bermudaonion February 25, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I wanted to see this movie when it first came out and have never gotten around to – even years later. I guess I need to check it out.

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softdrink February 25, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Geez, I’ve never heard of either. But I love John Cusack, so this might be a future video rental!

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Kim February 26, 2009 at 9:24 am

Jackie: I’d say a little above average :) Not the best book or movie on the subject I’ve ever seen, but I enjoy both of them. I’ll definitely watch the movie again, and maybe read the book again too.

Dorte: I’ve never read About A Boy, or seen the movie for that matter. Books with provoking chapters are always good though!

Florinda: Belle of the Books also had a post on this topic, apparently lots of us are thinking about it!

bermudaonion: You should see it, I think it’s a very funny movie!

softdrink: Well, the book is from 1995, and the movie is from 2000, I think, so they would be pretty easy to have off your radar. The movie would be a great rental though, very funny!

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chartroose February 27, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I loved the book and I also loved the movie. They were totally different to me, though. I thought the book was a lot sadder and definitely more profound than the movie, but the movie had John Cusack and a lot of lowbrow (and sweetly piquant) humor.

I just don’t know…
Great review, Kim! Now I want to reread and rewatch.

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Jessi February 28, 2009 at 6:04 am

I read the book before I saw the movie, so I’m partial to it. Plus, I love Nick Hornby (except for How to Be Good – that book just didn’t do it for me). I love his takes on relationships, and his characters are always very relateable and real.

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Kim February 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

chartroose: I have to agree — the experience of the book is very different from the experience of the movie, even if there are remarkable similarities between the plot and conversations. The book is much sadder and made me think a lot more than the movie, I think because of the time Rob spends going home to his parents and the parts with his birthday and whatnot. The movie is a lot lighter, especially because of Jack Black and the other goofy scenes. I think it’s cool that they go in different directions, but I think you can still like both of them. You should for sure rewatch, and think about rereading, both made me smile.

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Kim March 1, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Yeah, I agree, I thought all the characters in the book were very real. They’re a little less “real” in the movie, but I think that’s part of why I think the movie is so funny. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Nick Hornby generally (a good friend really hated A Long Way Down), but I liked this book enough to read more of his work.

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