Juliet, Naked

I just finished the latest novel by Nick Hornby, called Juliet, Naked. Where to even begin with this one. Definitely worth the read. Hornby has such an incredible way with dialogue and metaphor. He communicates his ideas in such unique ways through his prose; everything he has written is informed with this very intelligent yet accessible use of words.

My favorite Nick Hornby book is still, and probably always will be, High Fidelity. It had the perfect voice of a messed up guy just trying to figure out his relationships, connecting everything in his life with music. The book speaks to me more directly than any other novel I’ve ever read. And while I liked that one more than Juliet, Naked, this was definitely the most entertaining of all his novels behind High Fidelity, probably because it’s much along the same lines. The book is about an English couple who lead mediocre lives. The guy is Duncan, obsessed with the music of Tucker Crowe, a reclusive American musician whose last release (entitled Juliet) came out twenty years ago. Since Duncan is the regarded as the foremost authority on all things Tucker Crowe (he is basically in charge of the Tucker Crowe online forum/message board), he is sent an advanced copy of Juliet, Naked, an album of the demo tracks that eventually would become the tracks of Juliet. He writes a review of this new demo album, and this review is the impetus that sets a whole string of events in motion. That was maybe too long of a synopsis.

There are a lot of reasons why I liked this book. And one big one why I didn’t. Let’s get the negative out of the way. I didn’t like the ending. Done. Now to the good stuff. It read better for me than any of his other books (with the exception of High Fidelity, of course). A big part of that is probably due to the musical nature of the content, which I really enjoyed. Hornby has this intimate knowledge of music, and just as important, he knows how to translate that knowledge to the page. It’s incredible. And to hear his observations on music from different viewpoints was very cool. You’ve got the musician himself, the obsessed fan, and the non-obsessed fan, all with thoughts on the same album. Even cooler, it’s not just a normal album, but demos from a critically-acclaimed, classic break-up album. There is an important and intriguing relationship between the recorded album versions of songs by an artist and the demos of those songs. Hornby explores that musical relationship to very interesting depths. And the voice of each main character seems right on. I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be a famous and successful music artist but it sounds right to me. I do, however, know a lot of how the obsessed and non-obsessed fans think and feel towards the music of their idol and towards the idols themselves, and Hornby has nailed exactly how these fans think and feel and talk.

One thing that I especially loved in this book is how Hornby breaks down the relationship between the fan, the art, and the artist. One of my favorite passages of the whole book is when Duncan’s girlfriend Annie reads his review of the newly released Juliet, Naked (the demo album) and finally sees Duncan in a new light. It’s such a brilliant exposition of fans versus their idols and the art they create and to be honest, it got me super worried about myself. I’m not an artist. I don’t write songs that people listen to and enjoy. I don’t write novels that people read and enjoy. Et cetera. Yet I’d say the majority of my blogs are my review of something, an album, a book, a TV show, whatever. And Annie’s thoughts on Duncan’s review are scathing, because while he writes thinking he is an expert on the music of Tucker Crowe and able to expound on his music with more authority than anyone else, she realizes that really he’s just a pompous ass who reviews other people’s work with a smug authority because he can’t actually create anything of real value himself. As soon as I finished that passage, the passage where Annie realizes what Duncan’s review actually says about Duncan as a person, I immediately read it again and then thought about how I write. It’s a tad distressing to think that the writing you’ve spent a fair amount of time and energy on might just be a lot of hot air. It will, at the very least, make me think as I continue to write about things I’m into, or things I’m not into.

Back to the book. So there’s lots of cool thoughts on fans, artists, art, etc. Also covered in great lengths is divorce and the relationship between spouses, exes, and parents and children, some close to home, some estranged. Hornby doesn’t tread lightly around taboos, and it makes for very thoughtful writing. He challenges societal conventions, but not in a “let’s tear the system down” type of way, in a rather subtle way. For example, he touches on the subject of the differing of parental love toward different children. And he handles the subject gracefully and makes sense in the way he writes. That’s what I love about Hornby’s writing. It makes sense. Even if you don’t agree with him, you’ve never seen the idea presented from quite such a unique angle and it makes you think hard through what he’s saying.

This is a great book; Hornby’s written another gem. But don’t take my word for it! (Dun nuh dun!)

-Jon
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