A rollicking first novel from British journalist Hornby that manages to make antic hay of a young (barely) man's hopeless resolve not to come of age. Rob Fleming is the sort of precocious loser whose life has gone so unaccountably wrong that some deep romantic grief must be invoked to explain it. ``The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking,'' according to Rob, ``are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives.'' As a case in point, the 35-year-old Rob not only listens to these songs himself but peddles themas the founder and proprietor of Championship Vinyl, a seedy vintage-record store in a quiet back alley of North London. Business is hardly booming these days, and the shop would have gone under long ago but for Rob's lawyer- girlfriend Laura, who has propped it up time and again with cash from her own very ample pool. Once she dumps Rob, however, everything is suddenly on the verge of collapsefiscally and emotionallyand Rob is forced to ask himself how he landed in such a mess. Naturally, he has no idea, so he proceeds to look up his ex-girlfriendsall the way back to high schooland ask them why things never worked out. As a pilgrimage, Rob's quest bears more resemblance to Monty Python than Chaucer, and his own inability to put two and two together somehow endears him to the very women whose affections he seems least able to requite. Reality bludgeons him in the end, and he succeeds, as the plot is spun, in drawing a few morals that surprise him by their simplicity and point toward a happy endingor at least a second chance. Fast, fun, and remarkably deft: a sharp-edged portrait that manages at once to be vicious, generous, and utterly good-natured.