BY NICO VREELAND
Author: Nick Hornby
Best ebook deal: Barnes & Noble
Top Five Nick Hornby Novels
5. How to Be Good
4. High Fidelity
3. Juliet, Naked
2. A Long Way Down
1. About a Boy
OK, that was pretty cheesy. But there’s something about Hornby that invites a certain kind of earnest, jocular cheesiness.
Juliet, Naked will be made into a movie at some point, and I’m guessing it will star Robert Downey Jr. and Kate Winslet, if they can tweak the female lead slightly younger.
As a novel, it’s a fairly straightforward romantic comedy, with a relatively ludicrous premise. But Hornby has a talent for taking relatively ludicrous premises and plumbing their depths until he hits something good. He commits to his characters and his plot points, and, most importantly, he has a preternatural talent for making stories about relationships compelling and fresh.
The plot of Juliet, Naked goes like this: Annie and Duncan are a couple who’ve been together—quite unhappily—for 15 years. Duncan runs a fan website for an American singer-songwriter named Tucker Crowe, who hasn’t made a record in roughly twenty years, since his biggest hit, Juliet. Annie likes Juliet, but doesn’t share Duncan’s obsession with Crowe.
When an acoustic version of Juliet (dubbed “Juliet, Naked”) is released, Duncan reviews it quite positively. Annie is inspired to review it as well, and finds it what it is: the rough, unpolished first draft of a great album.
Tucker Crowe emails Annie in response to her review, and they begin a correspondence that causes everybody to reevaluate their lives and their relationships.
This is kind of a classic Hornby setup. You’ve got a bunch of relatively stock elements (unhappy people leading unsatisfying lives, mostly) and then one bizarre gimmick. Really, that’s the classic setup of most comic novels, especially those of the romantic variety.
The difference is that Hornby is the best comic novelist around. Even though the premise is gimmicky, and the plot points aren’t terribly original (neither are they trying to be), I was hooked by a third of the way through and I found myself rooting for these characters.
The funny thing is that I rooted for all of them, not just the ones I like. To borrow one of Hornby’s metaphors, the characters are puzzle pieces fitted together in (perhaps too obviously) the wrong ways. So maybe I rooted for them simply out of a sense of pattern recognition, that these things belong in a different order. Whatever the reason though, this book is more compelling and more charming than most.
Hornby’s not the most brilliant phraseman in the land, and his metaphors are often (and often admittedly) labored. But he’s a quite sound writer, and I mean that more kindly than it might sound. He sets himself difficult tasks, but he’s never beaten by them. He creates believable geniuses and bores, and when he stretches out the plot (the whole third quarter is relatively beside the point), he’s got humor to buoy the story along.
In sum, Juliet, Naked is a captivating, entertaining novel featuring familiar motifs and situations that never feel stale.
Similar books: How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby