Sunday, July 24, 2011

Juliet, Naked

Nick Hornby, in Juliet, Naked, returns to the world in which many of his fans met him for the first time: that of pop music and the music’s obsessed super-fans.  Readers of High Fidelity will certainly feel comfortable with the setting and characters of Juliet, Naked, but there is a twist to the story this time.  Unlike in High Fidelity, which focused on a group of young pop culture fanatics, the main characters in this 2009 novel are old enough to know better.  But they don’t often act like it.

Tucker Crowe is an American musician who went into self-chosen exile just a few months after creating Juliet, an album that has become a cult classic – in large part, of course, because of its association with Crowe’s disappearance.  Twenty years later, he is said to be living alone on a farm, so successfully isolated that not even a decent picture of him has been seen in all that time. 

Duncan and Annie, in the meantime, are living their own lives in a lifeless little English seaside town.  The two are not married, but have been together for fifteen years, so Annie has grown accustomed to Duncan’s preoccupation with Tucker Crowe and Juliet.  Annie, for her part, has heard the songs from Juliet so many times that they have become part of her life, too, but she is not part of the Tucker Crowe cult that has grown up around the album.  Duncan, on the other hand, considers himself to be the founding member of that cult.  He spends hours every day listening to the music and discussing Tucker Crowe sightings and rumors on the internet with the group that meets there every day.

Things get complicated when Duncan mysteriously receives a bootlegged copy of Juliet, Naked – a basic, stripped-down version of the songs on Crowe’s masterpiece album, Juliet.  Duncan not only shares the music with the Tucker Crowe cult, he posts a gushing review of the new songs in which he claims they are even better than the commercial version of Juliet.   It is Annie’s reaction to the stripped-down songs, however, that will forever change the lives of her, Duncan, and Tucker Crowe.

Juliet, Naked, at its heart, is a book about second chances.  Even Tucker Crowe, himself, admits to himself that he is pretty much a failure.  Multiple marriages have produced children he barely knows, and his current marriage (one that has given him a six-year-old son he adores) seems to be doomed.  Tucker has not worked at his music, or anything else, since he walked away from it all.  He knows there has to be more to life, and he is ready for it.  Annie, fast approaching middle age and yearning for a baby, is beginning to regret the fifteen years of her life she may have wasted on Duncan, a man pretty much content with the life they have.

When fate, with a big assist from the Internet, contrives to bring the three face-to-face, Tucker, Annie, and Duncan find that they have a lot to learn about each other – and, more importantly, about themselves.

Rated at: 4.0

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