Juliet, Naked is the latest novel by Nick Hornby who, as you know, I tend to quite like. Which is to say at his best I really enjoy his work (High Fidelity, Slam) but even his lesser books are very readable (How to be Good, About a Boy).
The Juliet of the title refers to a seminal album by a slightly obscure singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who hasn’t written or recorded anything, or even performed in twenty-odd years. The book follows one of his more obsessive fans, Duncan, Duncan’s girlfriend Annie and Tucker himself. When Annie and Duncan split up, Annie writes a scathing review of a newly released CD of demos “Juliet, Naked” and posts it on Duncan’s fan-website. Tucker reads it, agrees with it and emails Annie. An unlikely and slightly odd friendship develops.
It was strange reading this on the heels of Starting Over because it covers some of the same ground – middle-aged regret and soul-searching – but I hadn’t consciously decided to read books with those themes. It was interesting that of the three characters I mention above it’s Duncan – who is in some ways is another music-nerd straight out of High Fidelity – who gets the least time in the book (though he has a pivotal scene near the end). It’s interesting because it’s as if we’ve gone back to High Fidelity but are now looking at the same things through different eyes. This book is nowhere near as forgiving of the fan-ish behaviour. Instead we follow Annie, who at best tolerated Duncan’s fandom and Tucker who has a messy life the reality of which is almost unconnected with his fans’ perceptions.
There was a lot that I liked about this book. Annie was an interesting female perspective to follow and someone I felt for. Tucker was also a character that I liked, though I was slightly exasperated with some of his selfishness. His charm tended to make me forgive him – which seems to be his impact on those around him generally. If there was humour in this book that I ‘got’ (and there was) it was usually from Tucker’s strand.
What I liked less was the ending. Without giving too much away, whether you feel it is a happy, or even just satisfying ending will probably depend on the degree to which you like and care about the different characters. The one(s) I most wanted a positive resolution for got a rather vague, possibly optimistic one, and the one(s) that got the ‘best’ ending I felt deserved it least. That’s a bit confusing but I don’t want to give it away because despite that I think it’s worth a read.
7/10 – not Hornby’s best and shame about the ending.