Having been disappointed with the last two Nick Hornby novels that I've read (How to Be Good and A Long Way Down) I was a little wary when I started Juliet, Naked would this be a continued slump or would it be a return to form of his first two novels (High Fidelity and About a Boy)?
While still not as good as either High Fidelity or About a Boy, Juliet, Naked is a step back in the right direction.
Annie and Duncan have been together 15 years. Duncan is a huge fan of a fictitious Dylan meets Springsteen meets Leonard Cohen type musician, Tucker Crowe. He writes articles about him, goes on pilgrimages of places of notoriety from Tucker's life and career. He not only listens to but dissects every Tucker Crowe recording he has.
While on tour in Minneapolis in the eighties, Tucker Crowe went to the loo and then left the bar where he was watching a local band that had been recommended to him. He promptly cancelled his tour and retreated from the public eye. In his absence from the public eye, his legend grew within his small but rabid circle of devoted fans which included, Duncan.
With the money running low, Tucker agreed to the release of the demoes and rehearsal recordings from his final and most critically acclaimed album, Juliet. This new version aptly titled Juliet, Naked (perhaps a tip of the hat to The Beatles Let It Be... Naked). Upon receiving a pre-release copy of the album Duncan is giddy with delight and posts a glowing review on one of the many Tucker Crowe message boards that he frequents.
Upon hearing the album, Annie, who has been following Duncan's fervor for Crowe, decides to post a review of her own. One considerably less glowing... How could this album with stripped down early versions of Crowe's greatest album be superior to the much more polished finished product?
Her honesty prompts a thankful email from the reclusive Crowe himself... and that's where the story really takes off.
The one consistency in all of Hornby's novels, even his sub-par ones, is a sense of natural empathy. He includes just the right details to make the characters seem that much more real to the readers. Being such a devout lover of music himself, he understands what makes those of us who have over the top fascinations with our favorite bands tick.
The book is at times an examination of what it means to be a music fan. And without coming out and asking it, one of the questions the book poses-- when being a fan of music, are you a fan of the music that has been created or a fan of the person or people who created that music? Is it possible to be a fan of one and not the other. The book is also an examination of the songwriting process. The very things that made Tucker Crowe such a great songwriter also proved to be his undoing as a father and a husband.
At the same time this is a very human story about two people at a crossroads in their respective lives taking stock of where their lives have been and whether or not they can change the kinetic momentum of the past pushing them to perpetuate the mistakes of their past. And these two people make a very real and tangible connection. On that level this book can appeal to just about anyone.
If you are or ever have been a die-hard fan of a band or musician, if you've ever had a staggering devotion to that band, gone on pilgrimages to sites pivotal in the history of those bands, followed some of that band/musician on tour, collected bootlegs of that band, or analyzed consumed and digested the entire discography of that band this book WILL resonate with you. It speaks to the music fans in all of us.
Juliet Naked on Amazon.com
Juliet, Naked (wikipedia)
Nick Hornby (Official Site)
Nick Hornby (wikipedia)
The Blue Scarf (a blog inspired by Nick Hornby's Songbook)