Juliet, Naked was supposed to be light relief after A Place of Greater Safety, but that may not have been fair to Nick Hornby. I was remembering him as essentially readable. I mean, who else could have gotten me through a novel about a bunch of people who meet when they all try to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve? And I recalled A Long Way Down as surprisingly entertaining. So maybe I started Juliet, Naked with the wrong expectations. Or possibly this is just a more complicated venture.
In Gooleness, a godforsaken resort town on England’s northeast coast, Annie is getting tired of her boyfriend of 15 years. Duncan, whose great interest in life is the reclusive singer/songwriter Tucker Crowe, is a whiny pedant and we wonder how Annie can stand him for an instant longer. The third protagonist is Crowe himself, who abandoned his career after the success of an album called “Juliet.” He stopped performing one night in Minneapolis and has been more or less silent and invisible ever since. This makes him perfect fodder for a handful of devotees who spend hours on the Internet arguing about him and trading misinformation.
Hornby’s a terrific writer so when you actually encounter Crowe you do get a shock: wow! There he is! It was so easy to find him! He’s so refreshingly normal! Actually, Tucker Crowe is full of regret and self-loathing and has done nothing whatever with his life, save fathering too many children whom he doesn’t know. Somehow Hornby manages to make him likable — almost. Annie posts a comment about Crowe’s music on the website Duncan moderates and…. Crowe writes back to her. A flirtation ensues, followed by an actual encounter, followed by some rueful growth and character development for everyone. Though probably not enough for Tucker, in my view.
Hornby’s thoughts about creativity are moderately interesting and I liked his grappling with the weird doubling of the virtual/real Tucker Crowe. But overall I felt thwarted. Nick Hornby is funny, and the laugh moments were a little scarce here. What’s more, the characters are mired in boredom, passivity and loneliness. Hard to make that dramatic. Basically, I feel as if I’d had a craving for a Hostess Twinkie, and tried to distract myself with a granola bar. I’m not hungry any more but I’m not satisfied either.