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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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?
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Easy read. Still music focused but about a fictional musician and his work.Read more