Juliet, Naked

by Nick Hornby

Since becoming a household name, Nick Hornby appears keen to be more than just a writer of novels. Recently he’s dabbled in writing the screenplay for the film Bad Education, as well as supposedly supplying the lyrics to an album he’s working on with Ben Folds. At some point though, he managed to sit down long enough to write this his sixth novel.

Nick Hornby - Juliet Naked

Duncan lives with Annie, in a quiet coastal town. Both are in their mid-thirties, in a relationship that has deteriorated to almost friendship status. The only thing Duncan is passionate about is the music of Tucker Crowe.

Crowe is one of those musicians whose best work is clearly behind them. It’s understandable in Crowe’s case, as he hasn’t actually made any music since his heydays. The fact that he has dropped off the music radar completely has led to all kinds of rumours and legends being born from his absence.

Duncan considers his seminal work – the album Juliet, Naked, to be the greatest collection of songs ever recorded. So much so that he runs a website completely devoted to all things Crowe. His obsession even managed to drag Annie over to the States, where they visited Crowe’s old haunts; it even leads to Duncan having an illegal pee in the house of the woman that allegedly inspired Crowe’s most famous work.

After years of nothing, a demo falls into Duncan’s hands of a stripped down version of Juliet, Naked never before released. Duncan’s review of the demo causes not only a stir on the site, but with Annie too, who thinks he’s gotten it all wrong. So much so that she actually puts together a review of her own and posts it.

It’s not long before she gets an email agreeing with her review, from someone claiming to be none other than Tucker Crowe himself. It soon transpires that it is indeed from the reclusive musician, and Annie soon finds herself in regular correspondence with the man behind Juliet, Naked. With her relationship with Duncan now on the rocks, Annie finds herself embarking on a new relationship with a man she doesn’t really know. Or does she?

With Hornby such a music aficionado, it’s no surprise to find that Juliet, Naked has the music scales as its back bone. However, it is little more than window dressing, as he doesn’t go overboard with the musical theme. Instead, he focuses on the triangular relationship between Duncan, Annie and Tucker. Unfortunately, this is its downfall.

There’s something intrinsically dull about Hornby’s characters here. It’s not that they’re unlikable as such, more that they just don’t appear on personality radar. The one character he could have had some fun with is the rock ‘n’ rolla Crowe; sadly though, he comes across as being far too normal. His best days are behind him, which is a shame, particularly for the reader.

There’s no denying that the book is well written, but there’s just nothing special about it. It won’t make you laugh, cry or ponder life’s many mysteries. Once finished, you’ll simply put it down and forget about the bland lives of those within it. And hopefully, make you feel better about your own.

A Nick Hornby novel without passion is like a porno mag with all the pictures torn out of it – pointless. Perhaps in future, he should concentrate a little bit more on the day job, because it feels like he really did put the minimum of effort into this.

two out of five