Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity (1995).

June 20, 2007

High Fidelity

“Laura was, is, a lawyer, although when I met her she was a different kind of lawyer to the one she is now: then, she worked for a legal aid firm (hence, I guess, the clubbing and the black leather motorcycle jacket). Now, she works for a City law firm (hence, I guess, the restaurants and the expensive suits and the disappearance of the spikey haircut and a previously unrevealed taste for weary sarcasm) not because she underwent any kind of political conversion, but because she was made redundant and couldn’t find any legal aid work.”

High Fidelity tells the story of a record store owner, Rob, with a lawyer girlfriend who doesn’t want to grow up but feels that he is being forced to, so he rebels like a little teenager. She moves out because he acts like a prat then he does all the classic man moping while she’s gone. Nick Hornby’s book is not quite a compelling story, but it’s not a bad read either, and men will identify with the childish behavior of Rob, becuase, hey, that’s what we do best.In this book there is a definite representation of lawyers as “grown ups”. Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, is a lawyer who had “radical spikey lawyer hair” and worked with a legal aid firm when Rob first met her. But Rob is concerned that she has changed as she is now a “different kind of lawyer” working with a City firm in London. She has traded in her spikey hair for expensive suits. He does note that she was made redundant at her legal aid job and couldn’t find more legal aid work, but he is still uncomfortable with the change. He claims that because she could no longer worry about “tenant’s rights, and slum landlords, and kids living in places without running water” that she has become intense about work due to her work load and the pressure of working for a big firm and trying to impress the partners, etc. Laura  is a “lawyer by profession and a lawyer by nature.” To add to this she enjoys her job, and this is what makes Rob uncomfortable: the corporate lawyer is a grown up, powerful position, and he feels unease not only at having one as the bread winner of his relationship, but also at hanging out with more of them. He feels that he can’t justify his place in life to the suits, and doesn’t want to (when he makes a list of dream jobs “nobody asks how to spell solicitor”). Lawyer’s to him are “are people who own dogs and babies and Tina Turner albums.”

There is also a great deal about the politics of sex and it is often defined in legal terms. For instance Rob, while on hiatus from Laura sleeps with an American musician who claims that “sex is a basic human right.” Later when she comes to see him he thinks in his mind that that the one night stand should be the end of their contact: “that is the law of this country.” Even a married couple feels compelled to defend their monogamy to Rob as if “its against the law because we’re [Londoners] all cynics and romantics” and he is there to arrest them. Mostly these legal terms come from Rob and his insecurities about relationships, but a deeper commentary about law, gender, and the body can be detected. He describes dating as an adolescent in terms of “Attack and defense, invasion and repulsion . . . it was as if breasts were little pieces of property that had been unlawfully annexed by the opposite sex – they were rightfully ours and we wanted them back.” The property analogy is one that certainly historically has legal implications, but maybe Hornby represents a somewhat more hopeful picture. Rob does views women through mysoginistic lens (e.g. he is terrified that Laura will sleep with Ray, but he immediately goes and sleeps with Marie and has cheated on Laura before), but throughout the novel he is confronted with Laura’s power, which I would argue is why Hornby caste her a a lawyer (and particularly a corporate lawyer). As a lawyer she is able to, as a character, draw on a host of suppositions about the intelligence level and the power of the proffesion. Rob is confronted by this as well as her power in the relationship being the one that not only makes the money but also makes independant decisions. Rob must learn to cope with his insecurities due to the strength in Laura’s character that will not bend to control by Rob.  Thus in the end a Laura has gained a significant bit of power back and overcome traditional legal setbacks that accompany her gender, and she does this as a lawyer.

Nick Hornby