Follow TV Tropes


Literature / High Fidelity

Go To

"What came first the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?"

High Fidelity is a 1995 British novel by Nick Hornby (also known for About a Boy).

The novel follows Rob Fleming, a London record store owner in his 30s whose girlfriend, Laura, has just left him. At the record shop, Championship Vinyl, Rob and his employees Dick and Barry spend their free moments discussing mix-tape aesthetics and constructing "top-five" lists of anything that demonstrates their knowledge of music, movies and pop culture.

Rob, recalling his five most memorable breakups, sets about getting in touch with the former girlfriends. Eventually, Rob's re-examination of his failed relationships and the death of Laura's father bring the two of them back together just as Rob revives his disc jockey career. Realizing that his fear of commitment is a result of his fear of death of those around him, and his tendency to act on emotion is responsible for his continuing desire to pursue new women, Rob makes a symbolic commitment to Laura.

The book was adapted into a 2000 film directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack. It also served as the basis for a 2006 Broadway musical of the same name. A series based on the film and starring Zo Kravitz as Rob was released on February 14, 2020 by Hulu.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Alliterative Name: Allison Ashworth and Laura Lydon.
  • Aside Comment: occasionally, Rob would take a moment to personally address the reader.
  • Basement-Dweller: In the novel, Rob is going to the cinema with his parents and sees one of these (whom he dubs The Most Pathetic Man in the World or TMPMITW), and is terrified when he seems to offer Rob a nod suggesting he recognizes a kindred spirit.
  • Beta Couple: Dick and Anna.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Played with near the end of the novel; after Rob spending much of the novel worrying about whether Ray is better in bed than him, Laura finally tells him that it doesn't really matter who was better in bed and he should stop making such a big deal out of it - but then appends that she wishes Rob's penis was as big as Ray's.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: For all their incompetence at life, Rob, Dick, and Barry prove to be decent salespeople during a busy period. Rob is also pretty good as a music producer and DJ, and Barry can actually sing.
  • Butt-Monkey: Rob. Although he brings most of his abuse on himself by acting like an ass. Dick is more often Barry's Butt-Monkey.
  • Comical Overreacting: Barry does this a lot to opinions on music he disagrees with.
    • He insults a customer repeatedly for "offending [him] with his terrible taste."
    • He calls it "bullshit" when Dick says he prefers the Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels cover of "Little Latin Lupe Lu" to the original by the Righteous Brothers. When Rob defends Dick's opinion as a subjective preference, Barry calls the record store a fascist regime.
    • He called Rob's top five track one side ones "pussy" for only including one relatively new song among a list of more well-known classics and asked how someone with no interest in music could run a record store.
    • It also goes in the other direction. When Barry is introducing a customer he actually likes to records the guy hasn't heard yet, he reacts to learning that the guy has never heard Blonde on Blonde as if the guy is recovering from a recent bereavement. He presses the record into his hands, murmurs "It's gonna be okay," and gives him a hug.
  • Commitment Issues: Rob, for fear that he will commit to someone and they will die, leaving him alone.
  • Cringe Comedy: Features a fair amount of it, especially in the book.
  • Date Rape: Penny says that her having sex with Chris Thomson when she was sixteen (immediately after Rob had broken up with her) wasn't too far from this trope.
  • Decomposite Character: In the series, it appears that the character of Laura is split between Mac (the ex who broke Robs heart) and Clyde (a nice person whos ambivalent about getting back together with Rob).
  • Delayed Reaction: Rob is on the phone, talking to Liz, who casually mentions she doesn't think much of of Laura and this 'Ian guy' when Marie LaSalle walks into his shop. Rob puts down the phone, walks out to greet Marie, walks back to his office, clenches his fists and says:
    WHAT?! FUCKING?! 'IAN GUY'?! [proceeds to freak out]
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Barry takes great umbrage to a customer daring to ask if the shop has a copy of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Barry chews out a middle-aged customer for daring to ask if the shop has a copy of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder really sets out what an obnoxious superior Jerkass he is. What makes it worse is that the customer clearly establishes that he's buying the record for someone else.
  • Fan Hater: In-Universe, the protagonists treat people who enjoy music they don't like with disdain, and sincerely believe that a person's tastes in books, films, music etc. is actually more important than their personality. Rob is forced to eat his words in the novel when Laura introduces Rob to a colleague of hers whom he likes very much, and then shows him the colleague's record collection, which is uniformly terrible.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Barry is particularly bad with treating people with "terrible taste in music" as if they have committed a high crime.
  • Funny Background Event: Charlie's dialogue is either narrated over or muffled during Rob's flashbacks. If you listen closely, you can hear how pretentious and boring she is while Rob talks about how wonderful she was. When Rob meets Charlie against in his 30s, her dialogue is a little more clear as he finally catches onto what an awful person she is.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted; Laura gets an abortion, but it's handled very realistically and if anything makes her more, rather than less, sympathetic.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band:
    • Sonic Death Monkey, Barry Jive and the Uptown Five and Kathleen Turner Overdrive.
    • Also Kinky Wizards (the band of the punks who shoplifted in Rob's shop earlier).
  • Heel Realization: Early on, Laura's friend Liz storms into the shop, calls Rob a "fucking asshole" and storms out again, following which Rob realizes that Laura must have told Liz all of the nasty things Rob did to her during their relationship. He then admits that Liz is absolutely right.
  • Historical Domain Character: Though they never feature directly in the narrative, several Real Life musicians pop up in passing (Marie LaSalle slept with a famous American singer-songwriter whose name isn't specifically mentioned, the bands Suede, The Auteurs and Saint Etienne wanted to put up posters in the shop etc.).
  • I'm Standing Right Here: At Laura's dad's funeral, Liz commiserates with Laura's sister, and tells her Laura was already dealing with a part of her life that was going badly. Rob, who's standing nearby, immediately guesses Liz is talking about him, and tells them to pretend he isn't there.
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • Despite his Heel Realization above, immediately afterwards Rob goes right back to rationalizing away his actions and becomes, if anything, even more self-absorbed and inconsiderate than he was previously, not less.
    • Averted somewhat in the series. Rob admits something bad she did, but seems to, if not fully come to terms with it, at least seem genuinely sorry about it and doesn't choose a destructive path.
  • In Love with Love: Rob, who openly speculates that spending more or less his entire life listening to pop songs about love and relationships inspired this mindset in him, constantly seeking out new, exciting relationships rather than simply learning to be contented with the perfectly good, stable relationship he already has.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Ian calls Rob to tell him off for his (Rob's) obnoxious behavior around Laura. The phone call ends with Ian asking "So how shall we leave it?" and Rob replying "Dunno." A few seconds after the call ends, Rob fantasizes about the insults he wished he had thrown at Ian instead.
  • Informed Ability: Barry and Rob (two characters who spend their entire lives listening to records) both observe that the Kinky Wizards are exceptionally talented. The audience might disagree on the strength of the brief snippet from their demo that Barry plays in the shop.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Rob especially towards Charlie. It turns out to be the reason she dumps him too.
  • Intimate Marks: In an Imagine Spot after Rob finds out Laura's living with Ian, he imagines them in bed together, with a tattoo of Ian's name on Laura's ass at the panty line.
  • It's All About Me: Rob can be very self-obsessed. He even admits that going over bad relationships won't be good for the women but will at least help him. Laura calls him out on this repeatedly at the end of the novel.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: In-Universe. This is the guys' standard; Barry calls Rob's picks for Top Five "Track Ones/Side Ones" "very pussy" for only including one semi-obscure Massive Attack song amongst "a bunch of old safe ones". Barry's probably the worst of them in this regard.
  • Kavorka Man:
    • Downplayed in Rob's case: he fully expects the reader to be baffled as to how, in spite of the fact that he is grumpy, moody, runs a failing business, hangs out with his two employees who are even more pathetic than him and spends his life obsessing about vinyl records, he has nevertheless had sex with seventeen women in the course of his thirty-odd years, including a moderately famous American singer-songwriter.
    • In the book, Rob notes that the reason he lands women is his utter average-ness.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: At one point, Liz accuses Rob of being so self-absorbed that he thinks of himself like the protagonist of a story in which everyone else is a supporting character. Rob muses that surely everyone thinks of their lives this way.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Rob worries about this happening immediately prior to having sex with Marie (it doesn't). He seems to be periodically afflicted with it shortly after getting back together with Laura, owing to his insecurity about how he compares to Ray.
  • Loser Protagonist: Rob, by his own admission.
  • Love Revelation Epiphany: Discussed. Rob thinks about how he tends to look at someone differently after finding out they're interested in him.
  • Manchild: Rob, Dick, and Barry are all different shades of this, being antisocial, faux-intellectual, loser dumbasses with dead-end jobs.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Played with:
    • In the book, Rob admits that he often imagines that future girlfriends will "save" him and help him to fix all his problems, although this is never the case.
    • Subverted in the case of Charlie. When he was going out with her Rob thought she was an example of this trope, an exotic, free-spirited intellectual who would bring Rob out of himself and who "ruined" him by breaking up with him, but when he meets her years later he realizes that she is in fact incredibly shallow, pretentious and narcissistic.
      Rob: She's in the phone book! She's in the fucking phone book! She should be living on Neptune! She's an extra terrestrial, a ghost, a myth, not a person in a phone book!
      Rob (narrating): And then it dawns on me. Charlie's awful. She doesn't listen to anyone, she says terrible, stupid things, she apparently has no sense of humor at all, and talks shit all night long. Maybe she's been like this all along. How did I manage to edit all this out? How had I made this girl the answer to all the world's problems?
  • Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Mostly regarding disagreements of musical opinion. Taken one step further by Barry, who compiles a questionnaire about music, films etc. to present to women he's interested in going out with, to make sure they are suitably compatible beforehand. Naturally, none of the women in question take kindly to this. Ultimately subverted in the novel, when Rob eventually learns that it's possible to like someone (either romantically or platonically) even if they like music that he hates.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the space of a single sentence. "I go for a drink with Liz and she bitches about Ray the whole evening, which is great; and then Laura's dad dies, and everything changes."
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Penny, the ex-girlfriend whom he broke up with when she wouldn't sleep with him or let him feel her up, is now a professional movie critic. Which he thinks is cool, other than the fact that she's working on their date night at the movies and occasionally flashes him in the eye with her flashlight-pen while making notes.
  • On the Rebound: During their confrontation, Rob tells Ian that he considers him a cheap rebound for Laura.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Both the shop and Rob's flat are both decorated as such. The first thing Rob thinks about after Laura breaks up with him is getting the emblem of a record label painted on a wall in his flat.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "WHAT FUCKING IAN GUY?!!"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Downplayed in the novel. After getting back together with Rob, Laura repeatedly tells Rob all of the things that are wrong with how he's living his life, but it's because she loves him and hates to see him squandering his potential.
    • Also done as a Take That! during one of Rob's Breaking the Fourth Wall monologues: "Now, who's the asshole?"
    • Penny does deliver an awesome one to Rob:
      Penny: I... I was crazy about you. I wanted to sleep with you, one day, but not when I was 16. When you broke up with me - YOU broke up with ME - because I was, to use your charming expression, "tight," I cried, and I cried, and I hated you, and when that little shitbag asked me out and I was too tired to fight him off, it wasn't rape, because I said "OK," but it wasn't far off! Do you know I couldn't have sex until after college because I hated it so much? That's when you're supposed to have sex, Rob - in college! And now you want to have a little chat about rejection, well fuck you, Rob!
    • Series Rob receives quite an epic one in episode nine.
  • Rejection Projection: Rob remembers his breakup with his high school girlfriend Penny as her pushing him away for trying to feel her up, and then her having sex with another guy three dates into their relationship. What actually happened, as she points out to his face when he brings it up on their date, is that he broke up with her over her wanting to wait to have sex until after they turned 18, and that what happened with the other guy was barely consensual and turned her off sex altogether until after college.
    Penny: And now you want to talk about rejection? Well fuck you, Rob! (storms out of the restaurant)
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: About half of the dialogue in the shop, especially between Dick and Barry.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: Rob calls Laura at Ian's place from the phone outside the house.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several when Rob, Dick, and Barry discuss music (since they work at a record store, this is rather frequent).
    • The book is laden with music shout-outs from start to finish. It includes many of Rob's music-related top five lists, with titles like "Top Five Elvis Costello Songs," "Top Five Best Side One Track Ones," and "Top Five Floor-fillers at The Groucho."
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: When Rob tries proposing to Laura, she responds, "I do. I will."
  • Stealth Pun: The title obviously refers to high fidelity sound systems. However, there is also 'infidelity' in the book, with Rob cheating on Laura. Also counts as Fridge Brilliance once you realise.
  • Straw Feminist: Liz isn't too far off this in the book (but then, Rob is an Unreliable Narrator to some extent).
  • Take That, Audience!:
    • In the book, after listing the four worst things he'd done to Laura, Rob challenges the reader, before judging him, to list the worst things they've done to their partners, especially if the partners don't know about them:
    Finished? OK, who's the arsehole now?
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Several examples. A woman once said that Rob looked a bit like Peter Gabriel, while Marie LaSalle is described as resembling Susan Dey.
  • Toplessness from the Back / Sideboob: Charlie is shown like this post sex with Rob as she puts her shirt on.
  • Top Five List
  • Unreliable Narrator: Rob's memories of his exes are very skewed and biased, most especially in the case of Charlie. He eventually realizes this himself.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Dad died." Or in the series, Rob admitting she cheated on Mac the very night they got engaged!
    • Number five: "Jackie Alden. Jackie Alden's breakup had no effect on my life whatsoever. It was a casual thing, and I was glad when it ended. I just slotted her in to bump Laura out of position."
  • You Need to Get Laid: Rob thinks this about Barry, and he's not far wrong.