Authors: Nick Hornby

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

High Fidelity, 1995

About a Boy, 1998

How to Be Good, 2001

Nonfiction:

Contemporary American Fiction, 1992

Fever Pitch, 1992 (memoir)

Screenplay:

Fever Pitch, 1997 (adaptation of his memoir)

Edited Text:

Speaking with the Angel, 2000

Biography

Nick Hornby has come to define a certain populist strain in British fiction in the 1990’s and at the turn of the millennium. He was born in Highbury in suburban north London, where he continued to live and which provided the settings for his books. His parents divorced when he was a boy; his mother’s relative poverty and his father’s more affluent lifestyle in France with his second family affected Hornby’s choice of friends and pastimes, including collecting pop music and watching football (soccer). The latter, which began as a way of forging a relationship with his father during his infrequent visits, became a lifelong obsession, described in his memoir, Fever Pitch. Hornby graduated from Cambridge with an English degree, then worked as a teacher and journalist, contributing to magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Elle, Time, Vogue, and The New Republic. He also served as the pop music critic for The New Yorker; his fascination with music formed the basis of his first novel, High Fidelity. Hornby’s stable marriage served as a contrast to the chronically restless and promiscuous lives of his characters. The demands of caring for his autistic son, Danny, revealed a maturer, more responsible side to Hornby, who edited the short-story anthology Speaking with the Angel as a fund-raising project in support of autistic children.{$I[A]Hornby, Nick}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hornby, Nick}{$I[tim]1957;Hornby, Nick}

Hornby’s aesthetic principles can be gleaned from his critical text, Contemporary American Fiction, in which he makes clear his admiration for American writers such as Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, and Tobias Wolff, known as “dirty realists” for their gritty, working-class characters and settings as well as their plain, unadorned language. In interviews, Hornby openly acknowledged these writers, in addition to other Americans such as Lorrie Moore and Anne Tyler and the Irish writer Roddy Doyle, as his primary influences. While he gravitated toward the style of certain American writers, he distanced himself from his contemporaries in the world of British fiction, whom he rejected as too clever and erudite, writing what he once called “difficult, dark, inaccessible” fiction about “huge things in history” while ignoring quotidian life. He considered himself outside the “little literary circle in Britain” made up of authors routinely nominated for the Booker Prize. In 1999, though never having had work considered for the Booker, he did receive the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Hornby embraced descriptions of his work as being “domestic” tales about ordinary people going about their everyday business, including indulging in popular culture. His characters frequently border on being neurotically obsessive and self-absorbed–but in a comic mode; Hornby accepted the label of “comedy of depression” as appropriate for his writing. With each successive novel, he tried to hone his aesthetic style, making it more sophisticated without losing its populist edge. In an interview, he claimed: “I think the process generally is to try and get darker and funnier as much as I possibly can.” In response to criticisms that his fiction is too centered on a narrowly male perspective, particularly that of men trapped in adolescent fantasies well into adulthood, Hornby countered that he believed that contemporary men and women lead “very similar lives,” and that his writing transcended gender distinctions. Also, in How to Be Good, he experimented with a different point of view by creating a woman narrator.

Hornby has enjoyed a great deal of international success, with two of his novels, High Fidelity and About a Boy, having been made into feature films. With their detailed sense of time and place, Hornby’s books have a strong topical appeal as well as popular accessibility. The quandaries faced by his characters, though, transcend the local, as evidenced by the adaptation of the film High Fidelity to an American setting. The many references to contemporary culture, such as the names of particular songs, pop stars, and television shows, may date his writing, particularly the fiction, over the long term. His continued interest in developing original screenplays with well-known media figures such as actor Emma Thompson cemented his relationship with the very popular culture that formed his inspiration and subject matter.

Hornby’s iconoclastic attitude toward the British literary establishment secured his reputation as an author who, despite writing about distinctly English people and places, will remain on the edges of his country’s canon.

BibliographyKing, Chris Savage. “All the Lonely People.” New Statesman and Society, April 14, 1995: 47-48. In this glowing review of High Fidelity, King notes Hornby’s unique ability to evoke recognition from readers born in the 1960’s. He asserts that Hornby “is drawing new emotional maps for relationships in the 1990’s,” and that the novel is “boisterous, sad, bright and silly without grating in any of those registers.”Madsen, Deborah L. Review of Contemporary American Fiction, by Nick Hornby. Modern Language Review 89, no. 4 (1994): 991-992. Madsen says of Hornby’s venture into literary criticism that he neglects to provide any theoretical context for his analyses of American fiction writers; rather, she claims, he resorts to “an old-fashioned formalist line,” resulting in dull essays that focus on biographical detail. Further, she questions Hornby’s lack of an introductory chapter, which makes the individual essays read like discrete pieces rather than elements in a sustained argument.O’Toole, Lawrence. “Fever Pitch: Football and Obsession.” New Statesman and Society, October 2, 1992, 40-41. In this review, O’Toole praises Hornby’s ability to capture the nature of obsession in his “smart and wonderful book.”
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