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Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked

Published by Riverhead

Oct 23, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


A decade and a half after making a name for himself with High Fidelity, Nick Hornby has at last written a novel that, while not topping his debut, comes closer to the mark than any of his more recent output.

Juliet, Naked centers once again on the nature of male musical obsession. In this case it’s Duncan, a middle-aged fanatic fan of reclusive singer/songwriter Tucker Croweimagine a cross between Jeff Mangum and Blood On The Tracks-era Dylanwho hasn’t released any new music in more than two decades. As the novel opens, Duncan and his longtime girlfriend Annie, both residents of a small seaside English town, are touring the United Statesspecifically, visiting U.S. landmarks as they pertain to Tucker Crowe: the home of his ex-lover who inspired his best-known album, the bathroom stall where he sporadically decided to drop out of public life, etc.

Duncan loves Tucker Crowe in a way many music fans understand, even though that devotion has prevented him from doing anything larger with his life. Annie, on the other hand, tolerates Crowe because he means so much to Duncan. But when the two clash over their responses to a long-awaited new Crowe recorda stripped down, Basement Tapes-esque recasting of his most famous recordthe pair split, setting off the interpersonal conflicts and fortuitous encounters that encompass the rest of the novel.

Though the three central characters are fleshed-out well enough, it’s Duncan who’s the most lifelike, if for no other reason than perhaps because he’s the character closest to Hornby’s heart. Hornby obviously has a pretty good handle on the inner workings of men and their musical fixations, and like High Fidelity, Naked capitalizes on exploring that mindset. Yet here Hornby also tackles the other side of the equation: the women and friends that have to put up withand even lovepeople like… well, let’s be honest here, people like us.

Hornby is at his best when dealing that fanatic passion, and Juliet, Naked ranks with the writer’s early works on that same subject (High Fidelity, Fever Pitch). Though the plot stretches the limits of credibilityincluding unexpected Transatlantic romances, contrived family reunions and plot conventions that resolve themselves too easilyit’s a satisfying and rewarding read in a way that Hornby’s books often aren’t anymore.

Like the album it’s named for, Juliet, Naked‘s back-to-basics approach yields dividends, even if it still isn’t quite as strong as its creator’s greatest hits. (www.nicksbooks.com)

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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Lucy
December 4th 2009
7:10pm

Wait, what is the “male musical obsession”? How is it different than the female musical obsession?  Why do we have to characterize it in genders?  Are we not all humans, all musically obsessed?  What about it is unique?