An Obsession Laid Bare

Just before I got ambushed by my IFFP 2012 longlist reading, I was actually going through my shelves and polishing off a few books which had been waiting patiently for a reading for a long, long time.  One of those was the most recent novel by an old favourite of mine, Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked.  So if he’s such a favourite of mine, why did it take me so long to get around to reading the book?  Patience, dear friends – all will be revealed…

*****

The novel is mostly about Annie, a woman living in a dull seaside town in the north of England.  She has spent the best years of her life with her partner Duncan, an overgrown schoolboy who spends his free time on the Internet, chatting to like-minded folk about their shared obsession, reclusive American singer Tucker Crowe.  When a stripped-down acoustic version of Crowe’s masterpiece album, Juliet, winds up in Duncan’s inbox, he is overcome and publishes a piece expounding on its brilliance.  Annie, however, who knows a fair bit about Crowe herself, just thinks it’s a classic case of the Emperor’s new clothes…

As unlikely as it seems, this release, an album which soon receives the nickname Juliet, Naked, is the catalyst for the break-up of Annie and Duncan’s moribund relationship.  Even more unlikely though is a further effect it has, for when Annie writes her response to Duncan’s piece, she gets acknowledgement and agreement from a most unlikely source…

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Juliet, Naked, which, given what I said in the introduction to this post, was only to be expected.  However, the truth is that Hornby is a writer for the reader I used to be, back in my late teens/early twenties, and I’m always a little concerned with how the current me will react to his books.  A while back, I reread Fever Pitch for the umpteenth time, and for the first time I felt that it really wasn’t speaking to me as it used to.  That is almost certainly connected to the less significant role football now plays in my life, and knowing Fever Pitch as I do, I’m well aware of how ironic that loss of faith and apparent moving on sounds (Hornby does the same thing with football in the book!) – but still…

And it’s true that Juliet, Naked isn’t always up to scratch.  Coming at it after the heights of literary fiction is a bit of a bump, and there is none of the elegant, soothing prose you might find in the pages of other writers.  Annie is far from a complete character either, a little too prissy, correct and, above all, right.  Just as in High Fidelity, in Juliet, Naked the author has created an example of the typical Hornby couple: a useless, Peter-Pan type man, and a competent, sensible, better woman.  Duncan, gormless as he is, receives short shrift from his creator, and that’s a shame as the book is actually more interesting when he’s around.
The comic timing though is as impeccable as always, and there are numerous scenes which will elicit a smile (or a full-on belly laugh) from even the most curmudgeonly of readers.  The scenes with Annie and her shrink (a prim and proper elderly gentleman who only has one client) are among the highlights here, but some of Duncan’s insanely stupid ideas (including a certain toilet stop) rival them.
For bloggers, of course, the character of Duncan is a particularly compelling one as he is an example of what might be if we get a little too carried away with all this reviewing nonsense.  His attempts to become an authority on something most people have moved on from long ago have eaten away at his personal life like a cancer, sabotaging his relationship and effectively stifling his career.  His efforts backfire when he attempts to be too clever with his review of Crowe’s acoustic album, and…
…sorry.  I’m just realising the irony of some of my earlier pretentious comments…
Anyway, that’s enough of this review – I have a family to get back to.  In summary, Hornby is not Proust, but he can be very funny and entertaining.  Is that really a bad thing?  I’ll leave you to debate that amongst yourselves…
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12 thoughts on “An Obsession Laid Bare

  1. Haven't read any Hornby, in a long while, keep seeing him (books) in my favourite bookshops, but something else always shouts louder & that's what I take home, think you may be right with the age/ mental attitude thing.

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  2. I've read most of Nick Hornby's fiction, and I enjoyed them all to varying degrees, but I'm totally aware that they're not high art or anything. They're just very good at being light, fun reads with something of value to say about relationships. I don't consider that a bag thing at all. I like a little (or a lot) of variety in my reading, and books like Hornby's have a place.

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  3. I guess it's time for Hornby to write a novel set in the world of literary bloggers – he could have his revenge for any bad reviews and recycle his own work as a critic. It's his territory, the mildly obsessed, after all.

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  4. I used to like Hornby a lot but still have one or two I haven't read yet on my shelves. I never even gave this one a thought but your review tells me I would probably like it a lot. My favourite so far is still High Fidelity.

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  5. People keep telling me how fun Nick Hornby's books are, unfortunately after Juliet Naked, I didn't pick another of Hornby's book. I find this one underwhelming and boring really. Glad you find a parable that may describes the possible stalemate our blogging ways may be!

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  6. Good review. I enjoyed your ironic wink at yourself and I agree that some authors are better suited to a specific period in our lives. But even while we grow and move on, we retain a soft spot for them.

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  7. I think I'd say Hornby's generally a little more than light fluffy feel-good reading but I didn't think Juliet, Naked even made it that far. I've enjoyed most of his novels immensely but this just felt like the old stuff worked over again.

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  8. I wasn't thrilled by High Fidelity (the music obsessed immature guy got on my nerves) but I enjoyed A Long Way Down and Slam.For me, that's "comfort reading", it's easy, light, funny and rather predictable. It's good to read one of those from time to time. Emma

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  9. I loved 'Fever Pitch' – I've seldom identified so much with a character in a book. I read the record store one soon afterwards, which I thought was okay. I fear he's become a bit of a cliche. I might try him again some time.

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  10. Gary – That's exactly what happened with this one – there was always something more appealing on the shelf…Teresa – I used to read a lot more lighter books, but the blog seems to have stamped that out of me. If I ever got bored with highbrow lit, I'd probably go back to them – I just never seem to :)Séamus – This may be it in disguise ;)Caroline – I love 'High Fidelity'. Unfortunately, this has many elements of that book…Jo – I'd try 'High Fidelity' or 'About A Boy'. They're both fun and interesting :)Karen – I do have a soft spot for Hornby, but my patience is limited. Here's hoping the next one is a very good one!Maryom – I agree, and I'm a little tired of reading that women are cool and clever, men are useless, Britain is drab and dull, and America is great. New ideas, please ;)Emma – 'Slam' was a tad too childish for me (unsurprising as it was a kids' book!). I'd recommend ' How To Be Good' – it's still funny, but it's arguably his most 'literary' novel.Mark – I loved 'Fever Pitch' to bits when I first read it, but last time I read it, I found it had lost a little of its magic – which is a shame…

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  11. I was knocked out by how accurate Hornby was on internet fans of an obscure musician. I have hung around on a couple of newsgroups, and he nailed it! He also nailed the email romance – the magic combination of fantasy and the ability to only project what you mean to. That's what I love about Hornby – he really "gets" modern, ordinary people.And Mr Hornby, if you read this, feel free to email me. 😉

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