If you’ve forgotten what a distinct pleasure it is to read Nick Hornby, may I suggest Dickens and Prince, his odd, extended musings on the similarities between Charles Dickens, one of the most-read writers in the English language, and Prince, perhaps the most prolific and listened-to artist of the 20th and 21st centuries? ... Hornby stretches mightily in some cases to make the parallels stick ... But it doesn’t matter if some of his comparisons are sometimes a bit flimsy, because that’s not the point. The point is to be in the company of Nick Hornby, which is always a pleasure. His writing is so quick and generous and conversational and breezy that he could write an entertaining and informative book on the history of mayonnaise. Luckily, he’s chosen two of the most captivating artists of the last 150 years instead.
... really more of an essay ... All this bears out Hornby’s hunch that two artists working 150 or so years apart can have lots in common, but there’s more to Dickens & Prince than mere comparisons. Most important is what their lives and work tell us about creativity, and it’s on this that Hornby is in his element...He writes brilliantly about his wariness of Dickens as a child and his subsequent Damascene conversion as a university student when he discovered the author of Bleak House could actually be funny ... It’s possible that there are Dickens devotees who will bridle at finding Bleak House mentioned in the same breath as the author of songs such as Sex Me Sex Me Not. Equally, some Prince fans may stifle a yawn at finding their mercurial hero compared with a Victorian novelist. But Hornby has no time for cultural hierarchies, treating his subjects as the equals (and kindred spirits) they undoubtedly are. His book is both a love letter to two artists who have nourished him and the story of how they 'caught fire and lit up the world'.
With a breezily conversational voice, in a unique paired biography of sorts, the High Fidelity author plots surprising parities between the Bleak House novelist and the funk visionary ... Propelled by – Dickensian? – cliffhangers, the writing runs at a smart clip and the sustained correlation between these unlikely comrades often produces imaginative results. For instance, Hornby aligns MTV with the serialisation of Victorian fiction when thinking about the wide reach and mass appeal of these artists, which feels fresh and convincing ... And, of course, given Hornby’s comic chops, there are plenty of decent gags ... However, perhaps halfway through, the comparative conceit loses its novelty. When Hornby’s personal attachment to his material recedes, unfortunate questions stubbornly haunt the text: what is the point of bringing together these artists? Is this book more than a stocking filler with intellectual pretensions? ... We might reasonably suspect that, despite his breathless hagiographies of Dickens’ and Prince’s virtuosity, this book is mostly a platform for Hornby to impress us with the extent of his research rather than offering new insights into Dickens’ or Prince’s oeuvres ... While there is the odd passage in which he professes to finding the industriousness and ambition of these men inspiring for his own work, the accumulation of trivia (rattling off the page counts of the various volumes of Dickens’ Collected Letters) has the faint whiff of the pub bore about it ... Ironically, given that much of Hornby’s argument centres on how both Dickens and Prince are notable for the immensity and scale of their output, perhaps Hornby was constrained by the smallness of his chosen scale ... While slim and concise works are de rigueur and well-suited to our distinctly ravaged attention spans, adding more would have been beneficial for this essay. More detailed lyrical and textual analysis, even more precise engagement with the singularities of these artists’ craftsmanship and more delving into what Hornby feels makes these songs and novels so peerless might have made this a far less ephemeral read.
Plainly, this is not among the crucial concerns of our time. But if you care about how and why art is made — or if you just love Little Dorrit and Little Red Corvette — Dickens and Prince was written with you in mind ... It's hard to think of a contemporary author better equipped to write this book ... Attempting to demonstrate that Prince and Dickens' work remains important — something that seems self-evident — Hornby undermines his argument by marshaling flimsy evidence.
Hornby offers vibrant, affectionate sketches of two of his creative role models whose artistic lives, surprisingly, display some important common threads ... For all the flaws of their too short lives, someone aspiring to artistic greatness could do worse than to endeavor to follow in the footsteps of these giants.
... [a] heartfelt exercise in hero worship ... I think he misses a few tricks along the way ... Hornby is best when restaging the final scenes of his heroes, killed prematurely by their over-exertions at more or less the same age ... Their creative force operated at a relentless, virtually industrial pace; Hornby’s tribute to their self-destructive genius is ardent but more than a little fearful.
It is a strange and intriguing dual inquiry that Hornby sets before readers, and by the end of the short book, he pulls it off with interesting, if rather mixed, results ... The novelty of the pairing does not quite overcome the sense of its arbitrariness ... where Hornby shines is in the too brief psychological readings of Dickens...Dickens is what made his relations with and writing about women bizarre. It is unfortunate that Hornby devoted only a few pages to such an interesting inquiry ... At the end of the book there is disappointment in the possibilities left unexplored. Maybe the most glaring issue is the lack of engagement with the implications of the subtitle ... Furthermore, that Dickens and Prince are posited as a particular kind of genius implies the existence of other kinds. Perhaps a short study meant for a general readership can’t be expected to engage with theories of genius and the canon, but some investigation of a term crucial to the book’s premise seems warranted ... In spite of these flaws, missed opportunities rather than missteps, it is a charming book that mostly reads like two brief biographies with pleasant digressions. The shortcomings in coverage and thoroughness may be due to Hornby’s conception of the book less as a critical study than a kind of creative call to arms, which he sounds in the final lines ... If the idea is to leave the reader wanting to strive for more and to take these two remarkable figures, as models, to visit and revisit bits of the vast corpuses to learn a thing or two about craftsmanship, then Hornby succeeds well enough.
... breezy ... Hornby’s admiration for his subjects is infectious, though readers who come to this with a basic knowledge with either artist will find much of the terrain covered here familiar. Even so, it’s a zesty tribute to two cultural legends not often spoken about in the same breath.