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Juliet, Naked: a novel Hardcover – September 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hornby returns to his roots: music, manic fandom and messy romance in his funny and touching latest, dancing between three perspectives on fame: a sycophantic scholar, an appreciative audience member, a fabled singer-songwriter who can't see what all the fuss is about. After cult musician Tucker Crowe vanished from the public eye 20 years ago, his small but devoted fan base built up a mythology around his oeuvre and the people and places associated with his storied life. Self-appointed Crowologist Duncan has indoctrinated his girlfriend, Annie, on the wonders of Tucker, but when Annie fails to recognize the genius of a newly released version of Crowe's classic album Juliet, their 15-year relationship quickly crumbles. Meanwhile, Duncan's glowing first review is increasingly de-bated, while Annie's deconstructive essay posted on the same Web site earns her a clandestine e-mail correspondence with the reclusive musician. Soon, their exchanges grow more personal; given that Tucker lives in an American backwater and Annie resides in a remote English town, both view their e-mails as a safe flirtation until the dissolution of Tucker's latest marriage and a crisis with one of his several neglected children brings him to Annie's side of the Atlantic. Through brisk dialogue and quick scene changes, Hornby highlights each character's misconceptions about his or her own life, and though Duncan, Annie and Tucker are consistently ridiculous and often self-destructive, they are portrayed with an extraordinary degree of sympathy. Tucker's status of Dylan by way of Salinger allows for an intriguing critique of celebrity fetishization and of the motives behind the eccentricity that comes along with fame. Obviously, this is a must-read for Hornby's fans, but it also works as a surprisingly thoughtful complement to the piles of musician bios and memoirs. (Sept.)
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From The New Yorker
Hornby’s books are almost shamefully readable. They can suffer from simplistic premises and too many corny jokes, but his characters are always richly, sympathetically drawn. In this novel of aging, love, and regret, Annie lives in a decaying seaside town in England, where her partner of convenience, Duncan, immerses himself in the esoterica of an obscure American singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who quit the business twenty years earlier and hasn’t been heard from since. When Tucker releases a demo version of his most famous album, “Juliet,” Duncan’s and Annie’s divergent reactions (he loves it, she hates it) pull them apart. Through a series of entertaining if implausible events, Annie and Tucker strike up a friendship. The story is tinged with despair, and though the ending offers little by way of hope, its bittersweet ambiguity lends it maturity.
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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.
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.
It's been a few years since, and I never got around to reading Slam. But I downloaded Juliet Naked on my Kindle for a quick trip to New York. I can't say I finished it in one day, but pretty damn close. It took a little longer for the characters to grab me. In my laymen opinion, the fact that we move into the story so subtlety may be a sign of even better writing. The story just unfolds at nice pace.
I think what amazes me most if how much Hornby makes me care about his characters, and this is very much the case n Juliet, Naked. Even the annoying Duncan is exonerated with his "you asked us to listen" line, which is one my favorites.
I am going to say that Long Way Down is still my favorite Hornby book, but Juliet, Naked is #2. I'm anxious to download Slam and see what I missed there, and of course I look forward to Hornby's next masterpiece.
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