Saturday, April 30, 2011

Of love, passion and obsession

book review

Book: Juliet, Naked
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead
Excerpt: "Annie and Duncan were in the middle of a Tucker Crowe pilgrimage. They had wandered around New York, looking at various clubs and bars that had some kind of Crowe connection, although most of these sites of historic interest were now designer clothes stores, or branches of McDonald’s. They had been to his childhood home in Bozeman, Montana, where, thrillingly, an old lady came out of her house to tell them that Tucker used to clean her husband’s old Buick when he was a kid. The Crowe family home was small and pleasant and was now owned by the manager of a small printing business, who was surprised that they had traveled all the way from England to see the outside of his house, but who didn’t ask them in. ... Still to come: Berkeley, California, where Juliet - in real life a former model and socialite called Julie Beatty - still lived to this day. They would stand outside her house, just as they had stood outside the printer’s house, until Duncan could think of no reason to carry on looking, or until Julie called the police, a fate that had befallen a couple of other Crowe fans that Duncan knew from the message boards."

One of the most prominent names in the lad lit genre, British author Nick Hornby has found success as both a novelist and a screenwriter. His ability to create relationship dramas around topics such as music and sports while examining dysfunctional characters has always been one of his biggest strengths. Also the fact that he has benefitted from some of those rare instances in which books gracefully transition to film has certainly helped his popularity.

In his latest novel Juliet, Naked, Hornby returns to the world of music obsession and mundane relationships. It is the story of Duncan, a passionate fan of reclusive musician Tucker Crowe, who hasn’t been heard from in over two decades, and his long suffering girlfriend Annie, who is stuck in a world of tedium and unsure of what she’s doing there. But when an acoustic demo (or "naked") version of Crowe’s legendary album Juliet surfaces, it receives a polarising reaction from the couple, triggering a series of (mostly implausible) events that will draw Duncan and Annie apart while bringing them closer to Crowe than they could have ever imagined.

The narrative’s strengths lie in the writer’s skill of convincingly playing with the idea of music fandom, and offering an interesting take on topics such as cult success and the role of the internet, all of which benefit from being powered by Hornby’s bleak humour. But even though the ideas behind it are interesting, the final product is more lacklustre than it should be.

While Juliet, Naked shares parts of its soul with Hornby’s High Fidelity, it isn’t nearly as exciting as his hugely acclaimed and much loved debut novel. The book’s basic weakness is its uninspiring characters and the loose development of the narrative. What made his previous efforts work was his ability to absorb the readers into the fictional world that he created; the people portrayed in novels like High Fidelity and About a Boy were compelling, which made the net effect captivating. Unfortunately the characters in Juliet, Naked are so stilted that they fail to engage the reader, and as a result the narrative meanders, ultimately leading to a final result that is quite underwhelming.

So as far as Nick Hornby books go, Juliet, Naked does not rank among his best. It is a mostly average novel, and while it does touch upon some interesting issues and offers implicit Hornby-esque insights into people and relationships, its overall effect is less remarkable and more deflating than some of Hornby’s earlier work.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 30th April, 2011

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