Don’t call it a comeback, because Nick Hornby never left. Many of the reviews that I saw for Juliet, Naked stated that this is Hornby’s best book since High Fidelity (probably) and that it marked a return to form. Hornby only lost me in How to Be Good, which the author told wrote from a woman’s perspective. It seemed an odd departure for the author, because he writes from a certain kind of male perspective better than just about anyone around. It is fair to say though that Juliet, Naked is a High Fidelity for an older and more digitally attuned crowd.
Tucker Crowe is a little known American musician who disappeared from the public eye after releasing what his fans considered his master work, an album called Juliet that chronicled his break up with his supermodel girlfriend. Twenty years later the musicians legacy is kept alive by the cultish fans, Crowologists, that band together on the internet to examine his life in microscopic detail.
Duncan, the keeper of the Crowologists’ web site, maintains a life devoted to the music of his youth, surrounded by vinyl and CDs. Through the internet, he is able to find kindred spirits and validation for his musical obsession. His long-suffering live-in girlfriend Annie lives is left wondering if there is something more for her than the life she has inhabited with Duncan in a nowhere English seaside town.
Things are kicked into motion when Duncan is among the first to review a newly released CD from Tucker Crowe, a stripped down version of his masterpiece, an acoustic/demo called Juliet, Naked. Tucker and his Crowologists create an echo chamber of hype that is baffling to Annie. She thinks the CD is crap, stripped of the original’s powerful arrangements. She writes an anonymous review lambasting Juliet, Naked on Duncan’s web site. As it happens, Tucker Crowe agrees with Annie’s assessment and e-mails her to tell her so. Annie and Tucker become electronic pen pals, which begins lasting changes in both their lives.
One of Tucker’s neighbors is mistaken for Tucker by a Crowologist who snaps a picture of the neighbor that becomes widely circulated and romanticized as the current state of the “crazed genius.” The description of the picture reminded me of the famous picture of a seemingly unhinged Salinger going after a photographer. The book was written before JD Salinger died, but Tucker’s self-imposed exile certainly seems to be based upon Salinger’s “just leave me alone” aesthetic. Unlike Salinger, Tucker and the neighbor have fun with the misunderstanding in several humorous scenes,.
The novel does a wonderful job of exploring the myths that surround music – of how our musical heroes are usually flawed people like us. The inertia that can consume a life due to regrets – regrets for the things that have been done and things left undone are a big theme in the novel as well. This is a wonderful novel that speaks to the older music obsessives everywhere. And so even though I originally chafed at the description put forth by others, I tend to agree that this is Hornby’s best novel since High Fidelity.
The Soundtrack in My Head™:
While reading this book the songs that kept going through my head were by Bon Iver from his album, For Emma, Forever Ago. The story is that the singer/song writer hid out over the winter in a cabin in the woods and recorded the album after breaking up with his girlfriend. The track Skinny Love in particular seems like it could have been on Tuckern Crowe’s fictional album Juliet, Naked. Except it is a good song.
Bon Iver – Skinny Love