Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TITLE: Juliet, Naked
AUTHOR: Nick Hornby

PAGES: 249

SETTING: Contemporary Northern England
TYPE: Fiction

REASON FOR READING: I loved the two Hornby books I read (About a Boy and A Long Way Down) and have quite a few in my TBR. This one was discussed in a programme called the TV Bookclub, so it was in a special shelf at the library and caught my eye.

Annie loves Duncan-or thinks she does. Duncan loves Annie, but then, all of a sudden, he doesn't. Duncan really loves Tucker Crowe, a reclusive Dylanish singer-songwriter who stopped making music ten years ago. Annie stops loving Duncan, and starts getting her own life.

In doing so, she initiates an e-mail correspondence with Tucker, and a connection is forged between two lonely people who are looking for more out of what they've got. Tucker's been languishing (and he's unnervingly aware of it), living in rural Pennsylvania with what he sees as his one hope for redemption amid a life of emotional and artistic ruin-his young son, Jackson. But then there's also the new material he's about to release to the world: an acoustic, stripped-down version of his greatest album, Juliet-entitled, Juliet, Naked.

What happens when a washed-up musician looks for another chance? And miles away, a restless, childless woman looks for a change? Juliet, Naked is a powerfully engrossing, humblingly humorous novel about music, love, loneliness, and the struggle to live up to one's promise.
It's hard to write a good summary of this book, since a lot the fun of it is not knowing what direction Hornby might take, and just finding out as you go along. But here goes, a description of the setup, rather than the book itself.

Annie has been with Duncan for 15 years, even though they've never been passionately in love, and lately, he has really began to annoy her. A big part of Duncan's life is being a fan of Tucker Crowe, an obscure and mysterious singer who's been in retirement for over 20 years, and this interest/obsession of his has become a big part of Annie's life, too. Which is how she starts exchanging emails with Tucker, unbeknownst to Duncan.

What I like about Hornby is the way there are always little nuggets in his book that ring emotionally completely true. It's the small, unflattering things that I recognise with some embarrassment, like the dislike and resentment you can feel for your partner when the relationship's failing, the way you fantasise about petty revenges, even if you don't end up carrying them out. Juliet, Naked is full of those.

Some of the aspects of fandom were uncomfortably recognisable as well. Duncan's really a rabid fan of Tucker Crowe's, and Hornby does a brilliant send-up of the website he frequents, where he and other fans got together engage in (no other way to describe it) mental masturbation. They write long, "learned" articles about influences and inspirations and hidden meanings and intentions, and basically squabble among themselves over their interpretations. Oh, I've SO been in groups like that. There was this Harry Potter one in particular that I could swear MUST be behind the descriptions of this group. And a couple of romance ones are not that far behind, really, especially the ones devoted to a single author.

Fandom aside, it was really interesting to me to see the nitty-gritty of serious music fandom and quasi-scholarship. I'm not a music fan. Oh, I like a lot of stuff well enough, even love some very few pieces, but it's not really something I think about all that much, and analyse even less. Seeing the level of analysis that can be done was quite awesome (in the literal, filled me with awe, sense).

Juliet, Naked is funny without being fluffy, and real and deep without being too angsty. I highly recommend it.



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