Rob Fleming (which is what my name would be if I were heir to the Bond fortune) has just broken up with his girlfriend. He isn’t where he wants to be in life, a washed-up DJ who owns a failing record store, and he doesn’t know how to change that. This break-up is just enough to send him spiraling into anxious neurosis. He looks back on his life’s romances and lists off his top five worst breakups. They haunt him still to this day, and in a desperate attempt to understand why he can’t hold down a relationship, he decides to try to contact each woman.
I’ve committed to nothing…and that’s just suicide…by tiny, tiny increments.
I’ve read nearly all of Hornby’s books in the last few years, but I never got around to this, one of his most famous. The reason for that is it’s nearly impossible to find a copy that doesn’t have the movie actors on the cover, and I just can’t bring myself to buy books with movie tie-in covers. I’m not sure why I despise them so, maybe I worry I’ll picture the actors as I read, or maybe it’s just because they look tacky. I think part of it is that I don’t want to feel as though I bought the book because of the movie. Which is silly for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which being that it doesn’t matter why you buy a book.
I had resigned myself to buying the audiobook, but then my girlfriend saved me the trouble and bought the book for herself – a loophole! So I read her copy, with John Cusack’s lovely little face staring at me all the while.
Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang or something – not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: “I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.
I really enjoyed this. His writing is hilarious, and the characters were a blast. He pulls off melancholy in an interesting way that doesn’t feel too self-involved. I also have a deep love of lists, so he got some major brownie points for having the characters list off so many top-fives. I thought Rob Fleming in book form worked a lot better than his film counterpart. We got to experience most of his angst in his head, where the heightened doubt and rage made sense. Having to get it across physically in the film made him seem like an aggressive psychopath at times, which made it a harder to be sympathetic.
The bit a the end, with him making a mix-tape for the interviewer, was an odd choice I thought. I get that it shows him endlessly failing to commit to anyone, and results in him deciding to propose and drop that aspect of his life, but it felt oddly out-of-place to me. It’s supposed to symbolize the last almost-fall before he starts getting his shit together, but it left me with the impression that the relationship is likely screwed eventually.
I got rid of my music collection a couple of years ago, and this book really made me crave those days where I used to spend hours digging through albums (never records, sadly). I started using Spotify a few months ago, and I don’t know if it’s the medium or just an age thing, but I definitely feel less connected to specific albums now than I did when I was younger. I used to really cherish every CD I brought home. There’s something very transient in the way I consume music now.
It’s brilliant, being depressed; you can behave as badly as you like.
I thought this was great. It’s not my favourite Hornby, but it’s one of his best. In the spirit of top-five lists, my top five Hornby books so far: