Juliet, Naked (audio)

Nick Hornby is one of the most reliable contemporary authors I know. I’ve read almost all of his fiction and have found them to be good, solid, easy reads that are often surprisingly insightful. Many of my favorite authors help me understand other people and other places, but Hornby often helps me understand myself. That was certainly the case with Juliet, Naked.

As the novel begins, it seems to be a sort of examination of what it is to be a fan, particularly a music fan. Duncan is a fan, but not just an ordinary fan. His obsession is the obscure 1980s singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe, and he’s one of the leaders of an online community of “Crowologists” who spend their time analyzing the minutiae of Crowe’s work, looking for clues to what might have led to him suddenly retire in the middle of a tour nearly 20 years ago, and speculating about where he might be now. Annie, Duncan’s girlfriend of 15 years, is a more typical fan. She likes Crowe’s music, but she doesn’t take her appreciation to the same level as Duncan.

Duncan and Annie’s divergent views of Crowe’s work come into sharp contrast when Duncan receives a CD of a new Crowe release, Juliet, Naked, the acoustic demos for Juliet, Crowe’s best and final album. Their disagreement about the merit of the music and whose view has more validity draws out other disagreements that have lurked beneath the surface of their relationship for years. And when Annie receives a surprise e-mail from the subject of their disputes, things get complicated. Eventually, both Annie and Duncan start to question, in their own particular ways, whether they are better off together or apart.

One of the best things about Hornby is that he takes his characters’ sometimes quirky passions and lifestyles seriously. Although Duncan is sometimes treated as comic relief, the comedy comes mostly from his inability to cope with ordinary life and relationships, not from a sense that Duncan is foolish for caring about something “trivial.” I’ve seen Hornby’s characterizations described as compassionate, and you can definitely see that in his characterizations of both Duncan and Tucker. Both men are failures by typical definitions of the world, but Hornby finds something to value in each of them.

Annie, on the other hand, is really the heart of the book. She’s far more self-aware than Duncan, and sometimes her self-analysis is hilariously familiar. The crisis over Juliet, Naked forces her to take an even more serious look at how she got to where she is and whether it’s where she really wants to be. These are the questions all three main characters end up asking in one way or another. The great thing is that there are no obvious answers for Hornby’s characters, just as there are not in life. It’s a testimony to Hornby’s skill that I wasn’t sure what I wanted the characters to decide, and I’m still not sure I’m happy with how it ended. I love that sort of ambiguity. It’s messy, like life.

This was my first time listening to a Hornby novel on audio, and as I suspected, his style works well in this format, and the audio production is quite good. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different character, so three different readers—Bill Irwin, Ben Miles, Jennifer Wiltsie—perform the book. The book is written in third person, so it would have been fine to stick with a single narrator, but I can see why the producers chose this route. It gives each character more of an equal and distinct voice, even if Annie’s narrative remains the emotional core. There were a few grating moments toward the end, most involving accent changes and renderings of a child’s voice, but the performances are generally enjoyable.

Overall, this is another success for Nick Hornby, and if you haven’t tried Hornby, it would be a perfectly good place to start.

Other reviews: The Zen Leaf, Compulsive Overreader, The Literary Stew, The New Dork Review of Books, S. Krishna’s Books

This entry was posted in Audiobooks, Contemporary, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Juliet, Naked (audio)

  1. Cass says:

    I just read Juliet, Naked this weekend and it was my first Hornby novel. You are spot on with it being a good place to start–I really adored this book. I was a bit disappointed by the ending (mostly because I wanted something more concrete) but overall I thought it was a great, cozy read.

    • Teresa says:

      I still haven’t made up my mind about the ending, but I sort of liked the open-endedness of it. Anything more conclusive would have felt too tidy. (And the very last bit killed me, so funny.)

      • If I had a criticism of Hornby, it would likely be regarding his endings. He’s one of my favorites though. I led a music and movies book group for a bit, and we read this one together. I think it was also about art, how the creation of art works and what the art’s relationship to the artist is.

        Best,

        Bill

  2. Emily says:

    I loved this line: “It’s a testimony to Hornby’s skill that I wasn’t sure what I wanted the characters to decide, and I’m still not sure I’m happy with how it ended.” It’s relatively rare that an author trusts his or her readership enough to let that happen, and I always appreciate it too. Haven’t read any Hornby (although I saw the film of High Fidelity), so thanks for the solid recommendation of his work, Teresa!

    • Teresa says:

      It is rare, and especially so in this sort of light popular fiction, I think. It’s one of the reasons I think Hornby is among the best at this type of book.

  3. Alex says:

    This sounds a lot like High Fidely (the music at the center, the shaky relationship, the quicky habits). Did you feel it?

    • Teresa says:

      High Fidelity is the only one of his novels I haven’t read, although I’ve seen the movie about a million times. Duncan does seem to have a lot in common with Rob.

  4. I’ve not read any Hornby, bit I love the idea of experiencing it on audio. Sounds like it was a perfect book for it.

  5. Steph says:

    I haven’t read a piece of Hornby’s fiction in a long time, but I could see how he would work well in the audio format. He has such a light touch!

  6. Nymeth says:

    As you know I’m a fellow Hornby fan, and by the sound of it this one will not let me down. I really need to read it instead of just leaving it to gather dust on my shelf!

  7. Brenna says:

    I haven’t read any Hornby but I’ve been meaning to for awhile. Everytime I am at the book store I pick something up then put it back, opting for something else. Next time I’ll go with my instincts. He sounds like a great writer.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, go with those instincts! Even if you end up not loving him, his books are such quick reads that you’re unlikely to feel it’s a waste of a huge chunk of time.

  8. Iris says:

    I have yet to read this, but seeing as this is another book about music by Hornby, I think there’s not a lot that could keep me from loving it.

  9. Melissa says:

    I’m a big Hornby fan too and I really liked this one. I felt like it was a great representation of his work. He does a wonderful job writing about mid-30s people and music and this had both.

    • Teresa says:

      Hornby really does seem to have his finger on the pulse of a certain sort of adult approaching middle age. I like his books because his characters are just unconventional enough for me to like them but ordinary enough that I can related to them.

  10. Jenny says:

    I feel like the Hornby books I’ve read haven’t had a lot of heart — or at least, I haven’t felt a strong emotional connection to the characters. Maybe this would be different…

    • Teresa says:

      I actually found this to be pretty typical of his work, so if you didn’t feel a connection with his other characters, you might not with these either. (Although the experience you describe is similar to mine with A Long Way Down, my least favorite of his books.)

  11. Nicola says:

    I want to read this now. I didn’t know it was about music and Hornby writes so well about music. I loved the descriptions of the record shop in High Fidelity.

    • Teresa says:

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (And I’m hoping to read High Fidelity one day. It’s one of my favorite movies, but I think it’s the only one of Hornby’s novels I haven’t read.)

  12. Amanda says:

    This was only my second audiobook and I really enjoyed it. It was also my very first Hornby. Definitely looking forward to more now!

  13. Pingback: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby [audiobook] | Iris on Books

Leave your comment here, and feel free to respond to others' comments. We enjoy a lively conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.