Penguin: In High Fidelity one of the issues I suppose is whether music, that kind of thing, enables one to live life better or whether it’s actually a retreat.
Nick: One of the reasons I wanted to write High Fidelity was that I wanted to write from the point of view of a narrator who didn’t have any of the hindsight that I was able to have in Fever Pitch. There seems to be more drama in somebody who is trying to make up his mind all the time and failing, and there’s more potential for comedy.
In About a Boy, I think it is quite clear that Will is ‘retarded’ by popular culture. The kind of things he listens to and the kind of stuff he does is trivial. Whereas I think Rob in High Fidelity has got some soul, and his relationship with the music is quite soulful, but his relationship with other people is all over the place.
Round about the time I was writing Fever Pitch the publisher I now have at Penguin said he didn’t feel that it did him any good. He read these manuscripts all day, and they were all about life and death, and he listened to great music in the car, going to and from work, and he felt that art gave him too much intensity. In a way Rob’s job in High Fidelity is a trope, if you like, for writing. He listens to very raw stuff all day and it probably doesn’t do you any good. I think over the last 10 to 20 years we’ve all had much more opportunity, more leisure time, and there’s certainly more stuff around in terms of radio and TV, so I think we have a slightly distorted sense of what life is.
P: Do you think it’s a particularly male thing to try and find metaphors for life rather than life itself?
N: The male/female thing is interesting because when I wrote Fever Pitch and High Fidelity I presumed I was speaking on behalf of males to females. But particularly with High Fidelity the response I have had from readers has made me think that actually the gender thing doesn’t apply anymore. There are an awful lot of women who responded to High Fidelity in what I would have previously thought of as a male way.
P: As a male reader I thought that phenomena – of collecting, arranging, listing – is a very male thing, but you think not?
N: I think that the categorisation of things is maybe more male than female, but I think that the things women responded to in High Fidelity were more about just feeling messed up generally and clinging onto music or books as a way of getting through. Women who read the book seemed to look past that and look at Rob as a lost soul and identify with him because of that.
P: How should we read the ending of High Fidelity?
N: The way I intended the ending was that it had the form of one of those old rock and roll films. At Rob’s party he DJ’s and everyone gets together and dances. It has the feel of a happy ending, but I’d always intended for it to be very doubtful, and that Rob had taken the first tiny step on a road to something. It didn’t necessarily mean that everything was going to work out, particularly in the relationship.
P: What did you think of the film of High Fidelity?
N: I really liked it. What I liked most was that the film was personal to the filmmakers in the same way that the book was personal to it’s writer: they grew up in Chicago, where the film was set, and they are all music addicts. So it became a film about them, which is the best sort of adaptation. People kept asking me about the transposition to the US, but it meant that the book retained all it’s best features.