Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Juliet, Naked

I'm going to ignore the obvious questions about timeliness and push on with the review as though it is still October, or at least early November. What helps is that I saw a rerun of The Hour with Nick Hornby as George Stromboulopoulos's guest. Great interview!

Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked is an endearing work of escapist-quotidian fiction: the characters are everyday-types, and the story, though certainly unique, is not fantastical. Yet reading Juliet creates a place in your mind where even the most criminal of characters would be pleasant over a pint or two. In this case, antagonist Duncan is a whiny twerp but not by any stretch of the imagination is he a malevolent character. You cheer for Annie and Tucker above others, true, but you also cheer for everyone else. And everyone wins, in the end, including the reader.

Duncan is a major Tucker Crowe fan, perhaps the biggest in the world, and Annie, as his girlfriend, is number two by default. Duncan's infatuation with Crowe has become bigger than the artist himself, who created his own myth by disappearing from the public sphere abruptly 20 years earlier and leaving everything else to endless speculation. The novel starts with Annie and Duncan in the U.S., travelling to "sacred" Tucker Crowe spots - the Minnesota bar where he apparently made his last public appearance, his Bozeman, Montana childhood home, and, most crucially, the San Francisco home of Julie Beatty, the namesake of the artist's best and last album, Juliet. It all adds up to an intensely emotional experience for Duncan, and an eye-opening one for Annie, too: she sees Duncan as he is, a hopeless fanatic more attached to a legendary musician than his girlfriend of 15 years.

The story really gets started when Annie listens to a version of Juliet demos about to be released publicly for the first time (The album is called Juliet, Naked). The problem isn't that she listens to the album, but it's that she listens to the album before Duncan gets a chance to - it's an unspeakable breach of trust in his mind, and when she doesn't like the album that he considers sheer brilliance, well, it's all downhill from there. For Annie, however, it's all upside - she gets a chance to change her life, to "get back" those 15 wasted years. But things keep coming back to Tucker Crowe, and when she finally meets the iconic musician, perhaps the irony was too much to resist.

Hornby's writing is a smart as ever in this one. He shows his music chops, creating a love letter to both fans and fanatics of great music. Perhaps only slightly better, however, is his skill at writing about relationships. As in every of his books prior to this one, his depiction of warts-and-all characters and relationships is as appealing as his knowledge of music (his work on An Education is further proof of this). Overall, Juliet, Naked is an great read and should be read by every guy who's ever been in a relationship with music. Five solid gold records out of five. 

UPDATE: If you haven't already heard, Nick Hornby is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Watch the results on March 7th. Go Nick!

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