By Nick Hornby
Published in: 2009
Synopsis: Annie loves Duncan — or thinks she does. Duncan loves Annie, but then, all of a sudden, he doesn't. Duncan really loves Tucker Crowe, a reclusive Dylanish singer-songwriter who stopped making music twenty years ago. Annie stops loving Duncan, and starts getting her own life.
Juliet, Naked is about the nature of creativity and obsession, and how two lonely people can gradually find each other.
Juliet, Naked tells the tale of three intertwined characters. Duncan is a 40-something college professor with a devout love of popular culture to the point of obsession. At the top of his obsession list is the musician Tucker Crowe, an American singer-songwriter from the 1980s who faded into obscurity after his massively popular break-up album, Juliet. Annie is Duncan's partner. She's a museum curator in their tiny English seaside town, and has constant thoughts about the pointlessness of her relationship with Duncan, and the wasted years she's spent with him. Finally we have Tucker Crowe himself, living a rather simple life with his wife Cat and young son, Jackson, while trying to make this relationship work unlike all his previous attempts.
The story begins in America, where Duncan and Annie are taking a pilgrimage across the country visiting the many locations that have some sort of Tucker-relevance. While Duncan revels in taking photos of the toilet where Tucker apparently made his life-changing decision to quit music, Annie is sick of it. It is immediately clear that this isn't a monogamous relationship, it's a menage trois with a fictional (well, essentially) man and Annie isn't a willing participant.
When they return home Duncan receives a gift in his inbox, an advance copy of the early rough recordings of the famous Juliet album, now titled Juliet Naked. Duncan loves it, he writes a slobbering sycophantic review about how it exceeds anything every created in the history of music. Annie, however, hates it. She sees it as a poor reflection of a fantastic album, and writes a review that conflicts with everything Duncan said. This proves the catalyst for the rest of the novel's events. Duncan sees the review as Annie's shallow understanding of music and as a poor attempt to strike him where it hurts, while Annie finally realises how wrong their relationship is. As tension mounts between them Duncan finds himself in bed with another woman, and Annie finds herself emailing the man himself, Tucker Crowe.
Ultimately this is a tale about love, about all kinds of different love. The love between father and son, the obsessive love of a fan who has devoted his life and work to a musician, the hopeful love of a 39 year old woman looking for a new start, and the platonic love that exists where romantic love used to be. It's also about the lack of love, where love should or used to be. The love that's absent between a father and his estranged kids, the love and fulfilment absent from a musician who hasn't created music in 20 years, and the love that should exist between a man and a woman who have created a life together, but perhaps never actually existed.
It's a fun and light book but it also made me a little sad. These aren't old people, Tucker is the oldest at 55, yet their lives are all so sad and empty and unfulfilled. I can't imagine being stuck in a job or a relationship for 15+ years because I'm too afraid or too comfortable (yet unhappy) to do something about it. Even after Duncan and Annie break up they both find themselves drawn back to one another because it is the easy, comfortable option, even though they fully accept that neither would actually be happy in their reunion. Light though the book may seem, there is a real stab of melancholy and nostalgia playing through the whole book that you don't really recognise until you stop and actually think about it. It's something Nick Hornby does often, and does well, and this is no exception.
So should you read it? Well, it was a quick read, and an enjoyable one, perfect for those days where you want nothing more than to curl up with a book and just read and read and read. The characters are interesting and realistic and the writing is well-crafted. It's an absolute joy to read Nick Hornby write about music again, he obviously loves it greatly and his passion coming through the writing is intoxicating. If you like Nick Hornby's other books you'll like Juliet, Naked.