“Juliet, Naked” – A novel about creativity and obsession

Juliet NakedThose familiar with Nick Hornby’s writing will probably know that he often discusses obsession in his various books, from his memoir Fever Pitch to his novels such as High Fidelity. Aside from this, his stories often have some connection to either sport or music, and quite often examine modern morals.

Hornby’s most recent novel, Juliet, Naked, released in 2009, has a lot in common with his first novel High Fidelity in that it is both about music and obsession, though it also examines other themes such as the nature of creativity, the loss of that creativity, and loneliness. It centres around Annie and Duncan, who have been together for 15 years living in the seaside English town of Gooleness, and have never married or had kids due largely to Duncan’s obsession with the reclusive genius songwriter Tucker Crowe, who seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth in the mid 1980s after his most successful album “Juliet” was released. After Tucker’s record company releases a stripped down version of this album, named “Juliet, Naked”, it causes a rift between Annie and Duncan who simply can’t see eye to eye on it. When a negative review of the album that Annie posts online captures the attention of Tucker himself, the truth slowly starts to seep out.

This book is really driven by the development (or lackthereof) of the three main characters, Annie, Duncan and Tucker, and the story rarely strays from these three and their strange relationships that fall apart and intertwine. I felt sorry for Annie as it’s clear from the start that she is fed up with Duncan, and only tolerates his obsessiveness with Tucker’s music because she has never really questioned just how ridiculous it is. The whole book I found myself constantly hoping she would get out of that poisonous relationship, out of that dull town, and make something better of her life, and I think this book needed a character who you could cheer on like this.

Duncan, however, is somebody who I just wanted to punch so badly! I sometimes worry I’m an obsessive with music and books, especially with the size of my collections and the amount of random trivia I know about some bands, musicians and authors. But I at least have time for other things in my life, as where when the book begins with Duncan looking at a toilet which had significance (supposedly) in Tucker’s life, it’s clear that I am not as obsessive as I once thought. More annoyingly than this, Duncan thinks he knows everything about Tucker, and that he is some sort of divine authority on music opinion, and anybody who disagrees with him is just wrong. Top this off with a complete lack of empathy and a selfishness that is hard to describe and…well yes, as I said, I wanted to punch him.

Then there’s Tucker, the musician himself who is the centre of the story in some ways, despite not appearing for quite a few chapters. Naturally, the real reasons behind his disappearance are nowhere near as exciting as the various theories of Duncan and the other obsessive fans, and there is nothing romantic about what has become of his life in the couple of decades that have since passed. He’s a strange character, in that he has caused much more heartache than Duncan has, and we see this in quite a lot of detail through this book. Yet Tucker is quite well aware of his failures (shown by his one continuing attempt to redeem himself a little), and somehow this makes him substantially more likeable than Duncan. While I would never let my life become like Tucker’s has, I can definitely see how a person’s life could spiral into circumstances such as this.

Throughout the book, the writing is consistently funny in that typical Nick Hornby manner – not funny that you’ll be laughing out loud regularly, but it will evoke an odd chuckle here and there, and there is a lot of wit in the way the various events unfold. It’s also remarkably easy to read, not getting clogged up in lengthy descriptions or anything of that nature, and so it is an easy book to read through entirely on a rainy afternoon (it’s only about 250 pages). There’s just a certain charm to the way Hornby writes that reels you in, despite all the melancholy and bitterness in his characters and stories.

It’s a talented writer who can weave a story around two characters I pity (Annie and Tucker) and another one who I loathe (Duncan), and yet manage to keep my interest the entire time. The book was quite enjoyable, with a good and strong (if sudden) ending, and despite it being short, I think had this story been any longer it may have been detrimental to its quality. I haven’t read High Fidelity yet, although I have just started, so down the track I will not only review that but quite possibly compare the two similar novels and see which one comes out on top in my opinion, but for now I personally can recommend this novel, especially if you are a fan of music, a creative person, or if you just like Nick Hornby’s works in general.

Have you read this book, or any other books by Nick Hornby? What are your thoughts on him and his writing style?

26 thoughts on ““Juliet, Naked” – A novel about creativity and obsession

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie of ‘High Fidelity’, but haven’t read the book. I have read ‘About a Boy’, by Hornby, and enjoyed that too – it deals with issues ins sweet and subtle way, and it sounds like this one has some of that sense to it too. Will have to add it to my list! Thanks for a great review!

    • Thank you!
      Interestingly I haven’t seen the film even of High Fidelity yet, though I am now reading and enjoying the book. I can picture it as a film so well, actually (as I can with a lot of Hornby’s stories). I think you hit the nail on the head – he has such a subtle way of addressing the various issues and themes in his books, and it’s quite charming. 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed High Fidelity and this is on my to read list – not bothered about seeing the film I do admire him as a writer I have to say. Thanks for this

  3. I really liked High Fidelity, and it seems maybe there’s a common thread of women dating men they should leave for better things! I will have to get around to this one.

    • I think there’s a lot of commonalities in the way Nick Hornby writes, but that sort of suits his style of storytelling as well, I think. Glad to keep hearing good thoughts on High Fidelity! 🙂

  4. Great review! I so wanted to punch Duncan throughout this whole book, too. So obnoxious! I desperately wanted Annie to leave him, although I remember not really liking the ending; I can’t remember exactly what happened, but it felt a little too neat and slightly unrealistic. But I’m a cynic, so 😛

    • Hahaha, yes he really is an obnoxious moron isn’t he? I know what you mean about the ending – it certainly was sudden, but while it might seem realistic, for me I am in a relationship which when I explain to people how it happened, it sounds unrealistic and like something out of a movie. I think it’s sort of taken the edge off my cynicism, as a result 😛

  5. I haven’t read anything by Nick Hornby yet but I’m thinking about either reading this one or “High fidelity”. I was going to pick the latter due to my music obsession but since “Juliet naked” touches the subject too, I don’t know what to chose anymore haha

    • Well, though I haven’t finished High Fidelity, I would recommend that one as it seems to be the most well known and much loved of all his novels, so that’s probably a good place to go! 🙂

  6. You have inspired me to give Hornby a try. He seems interesting! I have already bought so many books, however, that i will need to pop into the library to do this. 😀

  7. I adore Nick Hornby. He does sentimentality without letting the story get bogged down in it. And ‘High Fidelity’ is definitely worth a read, even if you’ve seen the movie. It’s set in London, not Chicago and takes different plot twists.

    • That’s a good point about sentimentality actually, and I think it’s one of the things that appeals to me. All part of the subtlety in his writing.
      I’m really enjoying High Fidelity so far, though I have to put it on hold to get through a couple of books for work quickly. Think I’m going to spend a lot of this year working through the remaining books of Nick Hornby, John Green and Neil Gaiman, I can tell already! 😛
      Interesting that the film is set differently – I’ll have to watch it after I’ve read the book (always after – I had this discussion with some of my lovely year 9 students the other day, was so uplifting hahaha).

  8. I started out comparing this to High Fidelity, but I don’t think there’s even a question about it. And you’re right. Duncan is just one of those people you want to punch. You remember that bit when Jackson asks Tucker to go ahead and punch him? 😛

    I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say about High Fidelity. 🙂

    • Hello stranger! I see you have a new blog and everything?! Sorry about taking a month to reply, you finally reappear and I disappear for ages.
      Anyhu, yes, I’m nearly finished High Fidelity now and there is no comparison, High Fidelity is much better (although I do like both books). I forgot to take it with me to finish when I went to Sweden recently, and when I came back I was kind of flung into work immediately and have had little time for reading. I have knocked out a couple of books this month though…just not that one, oddly.
      Glad you know how I feel about Duncan hahaha! 😛

      • That’s okay, silly. I’m the last person you should be apologising to for taking time off. 😛

        Has High Fidelity made you want to look through all your old cassettes and CDs? I spent weeks listening to all the music I forgot I had!

        • Interestingly enough, I recently ripped all of my CDs (all 1200 and something of them) onto my laptop to back them up, so since then, coincidentally while I have been reading High Fidelity, I have been hitting shuffle on my whole music collection. It has been a cool way of rediscovering my music, and with nearly 15000 songs it’s very unlikely to repeat itself (though it did happen once hahaha). 🙂

          • Huh. I see what you mean about the transportation problem now.

            Yeah, I do that from time to time, too. I used to hate the shuffle button, I’m a big fan of listening to an album in its entirety. But it’s nice to be surprised once in a while, and I discover certain artists that sound good back-to-back and then I have the beginnings of a playlist. Which is always a plus. 🙂

            • Hahahaha yeah. Big problem, transporting my stuff! 😛
              Yeah, I don’t mind hitting shuffle lately. But I am more like you – normally I like to listen to the album in its entirety, and it’s kind of why I still like cds I guess, because you get that. I think, as pretentious as this sounds, it is because music is art, and I feel like the artists put the songs together on the album in a set order for a certain reason. Albums are made to be listened to from start to finish, to be fully appreciated that way, especially the best albums (and especially especially concept albums). But shuffle is fun too. Oddly, I tend not to make many playlists, though I have been thinking lately I should.

              • Exactly. And there are artists like Porcupine Tree and Ben Sharp that put so much thought into the arrangement of the songs and the overall feel of an album, that I’m reluctant to listen to them out of order. It’s like picking up the second book of a trilogy and reading just that. You know? I’d never do that.
                But lately, I’ve gone back to making playlists – I used to love making mixtapes as a kid – and it’s just so much FUN looking through your collection and putting together artists you think will sound good together. I joined 8tracks a while ago, and I hardly listen to the mixes there, but the times I just want someone to introduce me to something new? It’s so weird. People make these playlists and sometimes the combinations surprise you.
                8tracks is still a hit-or-miss for me, though. More miss than hit, actually. It takes a lot of searching to find a playlist that works for me, and most of the time, it’s just too much work. 😐

                • Yeah true, especially anything Steven Wilson does. His solo albums are far outdoing anything he ever did as frontman of Porcupine Tree (even if they haven’t officially broken up). Have you heard his latest solo album from earlier this year, The Raven That Refused To Sing? It’s just stunning, only 6 songs but nearly an hour long, it blew me away. And it was very much an album you need to listen to from start to finish – it’s like a collection of stories in this case, and it feels wrong if one of those stories is omitted.
                  So what is 8Tracks? Where people make playlists for other people or something? I guess I find a lot of new music either through wandering through connections to other bands and musicians (for example, discovering the band Pond through the band Tame Impala, who have both shared members), and especially lately through my girlfriend – Sweden has an amazing music scene. But yeah if you wanna hear some new music, I was posting up music reviews almost weekly for the first half of this year, they’re somewhere on my blog if you wanna trawl through for ideas. I know a couple of weeks in a row I did prog rock – I did Steven Wilson’s new album, Riverside’s new album, Amplifier’s new album and someone else all in the same week I think. Up your alley, I’d suspect! 🙂

                  • No! I need to get my hands on that album. >:|
                    Please tell me you like Cloudkicker? Here. This is my favourite album.

                    Yeah, it’s based on the whole mixtape-culture. It’s a pretty neat idea, come to think of it. They give you limited skips (you can skip only three songs in a playlist) and they don’t tell you what the next song is going to be, so you’re constantly surprised.

                    I’ll look them up! I haven’t been combing the internet for music lately – I’ve mostly just stuck to rediscovering the artists I used to listen to as a kid. I think the weather here has something to do with it. It’s a lot cooler than it usually is, this time of year. A sort of quilt-tea-book-familiar-music weather, which I’m rather enjoying. 🙂

                    • Yes, you really do need to get your hands on The Raven That Refused To Sing, best thing Wilson has ever done. It’s mind-blowingly good. Also, get your hands on Laura Marling’s latest album, Once I Was An Eagle, it’s a concept album that has taken a lot of cues from 70s musicians (some very clear LedZep moments), and has a really interesting story weaving through it, with the typical devil imagery for men etc. I reviewed that album quite recently actually. For me, it is the only album this year to give Wilson’s a run for its money, except she is only 23, so it’s really exceptional she can write an album that mature and sophisticated already.
                      I have never heard of Cloudkicker, where are they from? I really like that album, it sounds really interesting, it’s like a cross between some of the folk music I listen to and the prog stuff too, sort of takes elements of both and blends them really well. I’ll have to look into them some more. 🙂
                      It’s interesting that it’s cooler where you are – we seem to be having a warmer winter at the moment (after a quite hot summer too), and when I was in Sweden they seemed to be having a hot summer. And I know my rellies in the UK have said it has been a heatwave over there recently. I wish it was cooler, I like cooler weather 😛

                    • Done. You make them sound so impressive, I don’t have much of a choice, really. I’ll try to get my hands on both of them this weekend. 🙂

                      Cloudkicker is actually a one-man band. Ben Sharp, from Ohio. I heard about him from a friend, and when I checked him out, I found that he releases all of his music on the internet and you can pay as little or as much as you like for it. Which I think is brilliant. Here’s his bandcamp page, if you want to check it out. 🙂

                      It’s so strange to hear that you’re having winter in August. 🙂 I like cool weather better, too. It rains pretty much every evening now, and it’s so pretty – perfect for curling up in the balcony with a good book and a cup of tea!

                    • Ahhh awesome, let me know your thoughts on them both! And give both albums plenty of time to sink in, listen to the lyrics, research into what the albums are about through interviews and reviews etc so you know the context. But mostly, just listen to them a few times, let them seep under your skin. Then you’ll really appreciate them! 🙂
                      Ahhh cool, I’ll check out this Ben Sharp guy more then, sounds awesome! Very cool that it’s a one-man, Cloudkicker! 🙂
                      The season thing is always funny, it throws a lot of people. It was funny being in Sweden, as we were comparing their summer to our Aussie winter, both of which were occurring simultaneously. We found little difference between the weather and temperature, hahaha. But, go the other way, in their winter and our summer, and good grief – very much the extreme opposite. And that, that time of year, is when I am moving between the two countries. Urgh, I’m gunna die haha.
                      Your weather sounds lovely. We’ve only had a few days of rain this last month, but then this is the dry part of the year. We seem to get calm rain less and less in Australia, we just get violent rain storms more often than not, especially around summer. Summer just alternates between violent storms and floods, and bushfires everywhere. No wonder people are scared of this country hahaha. 😛

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