Hornby strips down characters in latest comedic novel

Book ReviewJuliet, Naked★★★★

Nick Hornby, the popular author of High Fidelity and About a Boy (among others) has nailed it again with Juliet, Naked, a slow-paced comedy revolving around a love of music.

Juliet, Naked follows three characters, starting with Duncan and Annie, an unmarried English couple stuck in a rut after 15 years. Obsessed with the lost American singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, Duncan is defined by his fanaticism. When the couple takes a tour of America by visiting the last known places Tucker was seen, Annie finally realizes the hopelessness of Duncan's infatuation.

As she begins watching Duncan from a new perspective, he becomes bland and brainless. With nothing to offer but advice on movies or music, Duncan is a shell of a person and Annie begins to despise him.

Their relationship really takes a turn when the demo for Tucker's most famous album, Juliet, is released and Duncan and Annie find themselves disagreeing for the first time. Thrilled to have a new album for the first time in 20 years, Duncan pompously declares it a masterpiece, better and more pure than Juliet itself. Annie, however, misses the passion of Juliet and sees the album as what it is; a sketch of a final product. Taking a step in asserting herself, she posts her own review on Duncan's site.

Duncan's own world is turned upside down by the notion that his partner could be right, and he could be wrong - because if he misunderstood Tucker Crowe, then he can't possibly understand anything at all.

Annie's words are well received, earning a number of responses and one e-mail: "Thank you for your kind and perceptive words. I really appreciated them. Best wishes, Tucker Crowe … P.S. I don't know if you hang out with anyone on that Web site, but they seem like pretty weird people, and I'd be grateful if you didn't pass on this address."

Juliet, Naked isn't that far off from High Fidelity, with the power of music pushing people apart and pulling them together. Annie and Tucker begin corresponding, and her relationship with Duncan continues to fail until eventually he moves out.

Tucker's own life, contrary to what his fans assume, is almost entirely normal. Living in a small Pennsylvania town, he cleans the house, reads loads of Dickens, and goes to his son's baseball games. And yet, haunted by a strange past filled with a small burst of success and a long line of forgotten women and unknown children, Tucker does little with his life. Unable to ever do anything but write music, Tucker doesn't work and lives off his wife's income, and she's nearing the end of her rope.

United by loneliness and a dull hatred for the stodgy, misinformed "Crowologists," Tucker and Annie find their friendship growing. Though, when they finally do meet, their future is questionable.

Hornby's writing is, of course, fantastic. He's witty without being overwhelming, and his characters are incredibly realistic. The way the story lines all tie together and Annie, Duncan and Tucker all somehow feed off each other is perfectly crafted. It's the kind of novel that makes you want to go out and write one of your own.

The Writer RecommendsHigh Fidelity (1995)-Nick HornbyThe Accidental Tourist (1985)-Anne Tyler