on September 29, 2009
All you really need to know about Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby's latest, is
that it doesn't disappoint. It's really, really good, and it may even
replace High Fidelity as my favorite.
The main characters are Annie and Duncan, a middle-aged couple, and Tucker
Crowe, an aging musician in retirement. Annie and Duncan have a
relationship-ending fight about the quality of Tucker Crowe's new album,
and Annie begins a correspondence with Tucker Crowe himself.
Juliet, Naked is about Regret. Big, mid-life crisis level Regret -- grief
and anger at the too-quick passage of time, of wasted opportunities. It's
about the realization that one has not Done Enough, or Done the Right
This may sound unappetizing. But one of the rare and great features of
Nick Hornby's writing is how he takes situations that would normally be
dreary, such as a serious break-up (High Fidelity) or teenage pregnancy
(Slam), and makes these situations hilariously funny. His characters are
self-aware about themselves in some ways, but not at all in other ways.
These gaps in self-knowledge, and Hornby's gentle handling of them, are
exquisite in their subtlety and insight.
This book reminded me: (1) Do the work you love, and (2) Strive to spend
time with the people who (a) love you and (b) who you love in return.
Which of us doesn't need this reminder, always?
on November 17, 2009
I haven't read anything by Nick Hornby before, although I have seen two films that were based on his novels (and both were quite good). I should qualify my review by saying that I was a little skeptical starting the novel, thinking it might be a little too `relationship drama' for my personal tastes. A romantic comedy may be a perfectly good option for a night at home watching a DVD with my lovely wife, but reading is a solitary experience, and generally speaking, I prefer darker nastier fare than what Juliet Naked promises its readers.
But I really enjoyed the first half of the novel. In particular I found Duncan (and Duncan seen through the eyes of Annie, his long suffering girlfriend) to be quite hilarious. Duncan is a fan of a relatively obscure singer/songwriter who disappeared abruptly in the mid-eighties shortly after the release of his most critically acclaimed album, Juliet. A mystic builds around the singer, Tucker Crowe, who has become a recluse in the spirit of JD Salinger. Duncan is the eminent Crowologist, an obsessive fan who maintains a web site devoted to Tucker lore, alleged sightings of the singer, and interpretations of his song lyrics. We meet Annie and Duncan while they are on vacation in the US, making pilgrimage to the bar bathroom where Tucker decided to walk away from his career.
But the novel started to lose me a little when Tucker Crowe enters the fray. After the demo tapes of Juliet are released, as a CD called Juliet Naked, Duncan writes a gushing review and posts it on his website, declaring it a masterwork. Annie posts a contrary review and soon after, she starts receiving (and then exchanging) emails from the reclusive singer. Annie and Tucker develop a romance of sorts but it never really generates much in the way of sparks, humor or warmth and compared to Annie and Duncan, Tucker isn't nearly as entertaining a character.
Neither Duncan nor Tucker change much as a result of anything that happens in the novel. They are both hopelessly incapable of creating any kind of meaningful relationship with women. In Tucker's case, he leaves a trail of abandoned children and former lovers in his wake. So this then, is really Annie's story. Annie comes to realize that she has fallen into a rut and gradually makes small changes to regain control of her life. This is a novel about regret and realizing that you have to make a conscious decision to get what you want out of life, otherwise it'll come and go before you know it. The ending is ambiguous and it isn't clear what the future holds for Annie, but the reader can see that she's on her way to changing the course of her life. I like that Hornby didn't give the novel an artificially happy ending or have Annie have a ridiculous and unrealistic 'epiphany moment'.
All in all I found this to a pretty entertaining novel. I'm something of a music buff and Hornby's insight into music, musicians, and the fans that obsess on them is priceless. The prose is filled with great lines, sharp dialogue and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Annie is a fully realized and engaging character and Duncan adds plenty of humor to the novel. In the end, my middling review is mostly a result of Tucker, who doesn't bring much to the table.
Bottom line: I found this to be a good light read - funny, insightful - but the final third lacked something, and in the end, it felt a little flat to me. I enjoyed it enough though that I plan to check out some of Hornby's more celebrated novels. 3 ½ stars.
on October 8, 2009
Nick Hornby has a bit of a reputation as a writer whose appeal is largely to young, pop culturally-obsessed men. While it's true that his earlier novels do focus on not-yet-fully-formed young men and their often unsolicited journeys towards adulthood, I always thought he was a writer remarkably sensitive and sympathetic to all his characters, male or female.
Hornby's newest novel, Juliet, Naked, is a wonderful, sweet book. The story focuses on three characters approaching or exiting middle aged, and how they deal with the regret of unfulfilled lives.
Duncan is a teacher who only comes to life when talking, listening to or writing about reclusive singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe. Annie is in a dead-end long-term relationship with Duncan and in a dead-end job as a seaside museum curator. And then there's Tucker Crowe, who has not recorded in over two decades and has been a disinterested observer of his own withdrawal from both his creative life.
I'll leave for you to discover how a small, uncharacteristically assertive action of Annie's - a dissenting post on Duncan's all-things-Tucker-Crowe website - sets into motion a series of events that forces all of these characters out of their respective ruts.
What's wonderful about Hornby's writing is that he understands and is compassionate towards all of his characters. You can think that Duncan is a sad, small man whose obsessive expertise regarding Crowe's small catalogue is a poor excuse for an actual life, but Hornby lets you understand how he got that way, and respects Duncan's intelligence and passion, however misapplied.
(I understand Duncan - his core belief that you can judge the value of people by the value of their cultural taste - and while I'd like to think (please, please) that I've never taken his road, I understand all too well how someone might make the mistakes he's made.)
I also love the way Hornby presents what seems to be a very British worldview - pessimism combined with unfailing politeness. His characters manage to give pointed, incisive criticism to each other, yet retain a social propriety that you may find charming or frustrating, depending I suspect on whether you are or are not British. Either way, though, the characters are human and alive and just like people you know.
Finally, although Juliet, Naked is not a music book, Hornby writes about music with the expertise of someone who, like Duncan, has given a lot of thought about art, and artists. Here, he writes with command about the mindset of the cult fan, the "more-obscure-the-better" value model the cult fan embraces, and where, exactly, the cult artist himself fits in this ecosystem (hint: artists generate great work but may not be the best judges of their worth).
Hornby is a rare writer who crafts literary novels for mass audiences. He is proof of an argument he has made about many great recording artists in his music writing - that you can create art of great, lasting value while remaining a crowd-pleaser. In that respect, he doesn't aspire to be Tucker Crowe, prototypical cult artist - he wants to be the Beatles.
on January 29, 2014
If you read reviews at all (you probably don't because you're much more healthy than me and anyone else out there writing for the masses), please trust my honest review over all the shrill, negative reviews about this fantastic book. Of course, I fancy that I have an opinion that carries weight, and I could list my degrees and life experience here in order to establish that, but I won't because that will sound pompous and like I'm scared that I actually have nothing to offer after all. And I do. I totally do.
What I loved about this book was it's honesty. I've read all your books and I honestly struggled with the female POV you went for in How to Be Good. I felt like you missed the mark. But in Juliet, Naked, Annie was amazing. I adored her and the weaknesses she nurtured and the way she tried to outthink them. I loved that she had so many heavy regrets and wanted to undo them. I appreciated Tucker a lot, although not nearly so much as Annie. The way you captured the fade from fame and the bitterness of looking back on a series of bad choices and the redemption Tucker is looking for with his son Jackson--holy crap. It really undid me. In a good way.
I've looked over several negative reviews and I sincerely believe that people who bash this story haven't any appreciation for what you do and how you deliver characters--broken but beautiful. Each one of them is prickly enough that it would be easy to discard them for sucking so bad and for just being pure crap as an individual, but we can't. Well, at least I couldn't. Because I could see myself in them, in all the lives I haven't lived and will never live, but could imagine living. That's such hard work to do, as a writer, and no one really appreciates it when you pull it off as flawlessly as you did in Juliet, Naked.
I knew what Annie felt when she realized that she was to the point where having kids was almost out of the question because it was a decision she didn't really make--to have them or not to have them--even though I have kids (I almost missed my window, though). I loved her wry view of Duncan's obsession with Tucker's music. I loved the way Duncan lived with this community of ghosts, voices on the internet. I know people like that. I loved the way music was woven through the story: even though I've never heard Tucker's music, I could guess what it would sound like. I drooled over the dissections of demo tapes vs. the final studio product. Being inside the head of a music fanatic of Duncan's depth was fascinating--because I hate bootlegs and live versions. I've wanted to know what it would be like to be the sort of addict that Duncan is. I could never be that.
I love how Tucker really is being a good dad to Jackson. The interaction between them was true to life, but it wasn't overdone. I melted to hear Tucker's inner dialogue about what he's trying to do and be for his son--like when he has to cut conversations short or whatever to go help his son when he was crying or sick. I could see the arc of his growth as a character even though all of Tucker's previous story is told in memory form or using a Wikipedia entry.
So, as an author, you had me at High Fidelity. But this is way better. I feel like, as a reader, I'm benefiting from the experiences you've gathered since the days when you wrote that book. This is much deeper. There's more pain here. Real pain. Like the kind you get from hindsight, when your life is half done and you haven't done or been near as much as you'd hoped you would. But the pain never drowns out the beauty. They work together and the effect is flawless.
If this was the last book you wrote, I would say well done. Because you caught it here, something really fragile and beautiful, and I got to see it. And I'm effing happing about that. So thank you.
on June 4, 2014
Hornby returns to using rock `n' roll as the driver of a story about our quest for happiness and satisfaction.
Annie is in a long-term relationship with a man for whom her feelings are, at best, ambivalent. She doesn't love him, nor does she hate him. Nor does she, in point of fact, simply tolerate him. Instead, she's given up believing her life can change. Maybe she's simply too tired to do so. But, it's more likely she's simply unable to see a way out. The man with whom she lives is obsessed with a musician who, some 20 years ago, abandoned a tour he was doing in support of an album. His reasons for having done this are unknown, but this doesn't stop a group of similarly minded people from elevating the artist to cult status on the Internet, all the while getting most of the details absolutely wrong. So wrong, that many believe a set of photos of the man is their hero, one Tucker Crowe. It's not.
An upheaval occurs when a stripped version of the original album (Juliet) is released. The fan base goes nuts for it, creating all manner of assumptions and conclusions about its purpose and meaning. Amidst all the pompous proclamations, Annie writes a review stating the original and complete pieces are better because they aid in delivering the emotional message. She is, of course, pilloried as a heretic, and a stupid one at that. Her only support comes from an e-mail from...Tucker Crowe.
Crowe is living an unsatisfactory life also. However, unlike Annie who simply endures, Tucker walks away from responsibilities with regularity. His Rob Gordon-like actions are more damaging than those of Gordon in that he has left a string of ex-wives and lovers, as well as enough children to play basketball.
Communication between Annie and Tucker allows both - though at different speeds - to decide their lives can be better if they change them. The process of maturing requires both face their demons and conquer them. By the end of the book, both have succeeded.
In telling the story, Hornby presents us with his usual cast of damaged but thoroughly realistic and recognizable characters. What made the book even better was the insertion of the storyline into the structure of his (and my) all-consuming love of music. His description of how consumed with their own hubris the `Crowe-ologists' are was humorous and unnerving. There's a scene early on in which Annie and Duncan (that's her companion's name) go into the men's room of a bar in Minneapolis because it's supposed to be the location of Crowe's epiphany. Having taken the tour of Liverpool to see most every spot where something went on involving The Beatles, I found the implication a bit too close for comfort!
The big message is not that we need to get a life beyond music...we shouldn't. But, we do need to better address our responsibilities and obligations.
on February 18, 2016
This didn't have a life-changing effect on me the way High Fidelity did, but that's ok. If it happened every time, it wouldn't be as special, right? Enjoyable and funny novel about how music - or, how the emotions we attach to music, musicians, albums, and concerts - can really change us and sometimes get in our way.
I found this book enjoyable, but not so much as Hornby's others. The main characters, much like the town that most of the book is set in, are often mildly depressing, though generally likable and endearing at times, and some of the minor characters are fantastic. There are a few good examples of Hornby wit - indeed, I laughed out loud several times - and his insight. This book will get you to ponder how much of your life you've wasted, though it will also provide you with a mathematical formula for reclaiming some of that time as not-wasted.
In “Juliet, Naked” Nick Hornby returns to familiar territory – obsessive characters whose lives revolve around a specific hobby or activity, as in “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch”. Unfortunately, in this time through it appears that he has gone to the well once too often. The story, which revolves around a barely functional relationship between a man who is obsessed with an obscure Indie musician who disappeared from public view years before, and a woman who has tolerated the obsession for many years, has some interesting moments. Overall, however, it is is a little flat, and more than a bit contrived in places. For fans of Hornby’s work who don’t want to leave any corner of his body of work unexplored it will scratch that “I’ve read ALL his books” itch, but more casual fans needn’t feel guilty if they give it a miss.
on January 17, 2016
This book is HIGHLY OVERRATED! It doesn't deserve 1 star! I love reading books written by British authors so I though thought I would enjoy Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked. Boy! Was I wrong!!! It is God Awful rubbish! The story is so watered down the characters have no character. The book is about a washed up, loser, song writer/ performer who becomes a recluse for 2 decades living off women he encounters and has children with. Children he has a hard time remembering anything about. ABSOLUTELY Nothing has become of him in those twenty years! If boring mundane, dull witted, trite, idiotic, pointless, meaningless, mind numbing, uneventful, endless bottomless pit no plot senseless stupidity is what you are looking for then you have hit the jackpot! What a joke!!!
on March 12, 2013
I've never read any Hornby before - High Fidelity and About A Boy are probably his two most famous novels, but he's got a slew of others and a pretty large (and apparently quite devoted) fan base. And having read many of the reviews of his work, I was excited to read Juliet, Naked - unfortunately I wasn't as impressed as Hornby's minions.
So here's the trajectory of this book - Intro: ok, ok, nice change of pace from the depths of depression of A Possible Life. I dig it, let's keep on keeping on. Beginning of body: character development - check, plot development - double check, we've got a goody on our hands! Middle of body: loving where this is going - what a great read so far... End of body: ok, we're losing direction a little, but maybe the end will pick up a bit. Ending: _______ ??? (a.k.a. no ending).
Hornby tried too hard for that mysterious non-ending ending, but it just didn't work. What's worse, is that he had actually set himself up to have a really great book, but just kind of lost focus and let it flop. The characters were wonderful - until they weren't. And the story was heading in the direction of special - until it wasn't. Sorry old Nick-o, I just don't get what the hype is all about.
on March 22, 2013
Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked was a movie it would go straight to video. As a Hornby fan it pains me to say this; but he has written a kitsch romantic comedy of a novel that is neither romantic nor funny (of which he can be both).
The fundamental downfall of the novel is the implausible invented character of singer song writer Tucker Crowe. At first Crowe is a plot devise for two main characters. Annie has been dragged into her longtime boyfriend Duncan's twenty plus year obsession with the somewhat obscure Tucker Crowe album "Juliet". When Crowe unexpectantly releases a comeback album (Juliet, Naked) it splits the couple up, and by happenstance leads Annie into a relationship with - the object of her ex's affection - the reclusive Tucker Crowe.
For some reason Nick Hornby packed the novel with a large Tucker Crowe backstory of past relationships that hang as loose ends even to the end. Crowe is portrayed as a genius with human failings. But none of his failings seem plausible or derivative of a tormented genius. Instead his womanizing and alcoholism seem to be lightly tacked on, as a plot device to give him room to be likeable and ultimately redemptive.