Title: Juliet, Naked
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.
Annie and Duncan have been together for fifteen years, and have settled into a comfortable, boring relationship. Settled probably isn’t the right word – their relationship was never very exciting. Duncan is a professor of pop culture with an obsession for a reclusive American rock star, Tucker Crowe. Crowe disappeared twenty years ago after recording his one hit album, and people like Duncan have created a huge mythology regarding the reason for his disappearance and the meaning behind his music – a mythology that now resides on the Internet. When a new Crowe album surfaces, Duncan and Annie disagree – he thinks it’s genius, she thinks it’s trash. Their relationship falls apart, and then Annie is contacted by Tucker via e-mail to thank her for her honest review. Annie is now corresponding with the one person Duncan would gladly give his right leg to meet – but he’s not quite the Tucker Duncan has created for himself, and Annie doesn’t want to share.
Any of you who read my blog regularly know about the huge crush I have on Nick Hornby. Or maybe I should say Nick Hornby’s mind. His books make me laugh, make me think, sometimes make me cry, and often I will find myself reading with a huge smile on my face. It’s purely an intellectual crush – I have no idea what the man looks like in real life. Do you think he’s funny like that every day? Does he entertain his wife over dinner with witty observations about the fickleness of humanity, the absurdity of life? Probably not, but if he does, she’s one lucky woman. Or maybe it would get annoying if it was an every day occurrence. All I know is that every time I read one of his books, I think, “He gets it. He gets what people think, how they feel, and how screwed up life is – and yet wonderful at the same time.”
The characters of this book are all a mess in one way or another – but aren’t we all? Duncan is an especially pitiable creature, a man who has spent endless hours and much intellectual effort in dissecting the life and music of one man. He epitomizes the obsessive fans to whom the Internet has become Mecca, with their message boards full of endless speculation and interpretations of art and music and movies that the creators themselves could never have foreseen.
Annie is a likable woman who had the misfortune of getting stuck with Duncan and in a job she doesn’t particularly enjoy, and then not having the gumption or energy to do anything about it. When her relationship with Duncan disintegrates due to a colossal betrayal on Duncan’s part, she’s left feeling mainly relieved, but also wondering how she can possibly recover all those lost years and lost opportunities. In her correspondence with Tucker she finds someone else who has drifted through the past umpteen years of his life, wondering what good he has left behind.
I really, really wanted to give this book five stars – in fact, up until the last five pages, I fully intended to. But the ending is very ambiguous. I know that is what Hornby intended. I know what I think it meant, what I think happened after those last words I read on the page – and I wish I was the kind of reader who could simply be content to assume the ending I hoped for. But I don’t know if that’s the ending Hornby had in mind, and the not knowing drives me crazy. There are probably a lot of readers out there who are not bothered by ambiguous endings – I know that I’m simply a curious, nosy person who wants to know exactly how things turned out, especially for characters that I have come to love. But that’s just me – don’t let that stop you from picking up Juliet, Naked, because it’s a must-read, and I’d love to have someone to discuss the ending with.