Those 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?