Tuesday, 22 March 2011

21. "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby

Publisher: Penguin
Page count: 256 pages
Date begun: March 22nd, 2011
Date finished: March 22nd, 2011

Duncan is a big old-music nerd and a self-styled expert on the music career of Tucker Crowe, a singer-songwriter (think Dylan) who released one really critically acclaimed album in the 80s, and then suddenly during a tour disappeared and went into hiding. Duncan frequents internet message boards where he and other fans debate and analyze every aspect of Crowe's career in detail, speculating on what made him suddenly drop everything, and on what he may be up to now. Annie has lived with him in an increasingly more unsatisfying relationship for the past 15 years, and is realizing that she's suddenly middle-aged, living in a boring little English seaside town with a dead-end job at the town's tiny museum, and she doesn't know how to change things.

The thing that does trigger sudden change in Annie's dreary life is an advance copy of the demos for Tucker Crowe's lauded breakup album Juliet, sent to Duncan through one of his message board mates.  Annie opens the post and listens to it before Duncan gets a chance to. They end up having extremely differing opinions on the quality of the album (called Juliet, Naked - see what they did there), and while Duncan posts a glowingly enthusiastic review of it on the internet, Annie decides to post her own. Having posted her e-mail address with the review, she is contacted shortly after by none other than the elusive Tucker Crowe himself, who is now a middle aged man living in the American country side, trying to come to grips with his own years of wasted potential and the various children he's fathered over the years turning up on his doorstep. They start an e-mail correspondence, and soon Annie knows more about the obscure Mr Crowe than his devoted fans have ever dreamed of.

Juliet, Naked is the third Hornby novel I've read, the first one being High Fidelity, which I found dreadfully dull, and finished out of stubbornness. I also read About A Boy, as I'm a fan of the movie, and found it much better, if a bit dark at times. I was a bit dubious, since in this one, Hornby once again portrays a music obsessive, but the book was for the most part very entertaining, and Duncan is clearly meant to be a bit pathetic, abrasive and unlikable. Anyone who's ever frequented an internet message board where lots of obsessive fans voice their opinions on whatever subject they're passionate about has encountered someone like Duncan. Yet Hornby also manages to make us see that he's a complex person, not just a caricature.

Obviously, I preferred the parts of the story from Annie and Tucker's point of view. Tucker has clearly not been the nicest or wisest person over the years, he's made a whole load of mistakes, and is only now starting to realize that he may have made a bit of a mess out of a lot of things in his life. Both he and Annie have a lot of regrets about their pasts, and develop a friendship through their correspondance that helps them affect necessary changes. If it hadn't been for the rather sudden ending (termed by some online reviewers as tantalisingly open-ended and bittersweet), but which I found a bit lazy and cowardly and would've criticised one of my pupils for ending a story with, I would have really enjoyed this a lot. As it is, it's probably my favourite Hornby book, but I would've liked it more if it had another 10 pages or so and wrapped up the story a bit more.

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