A pop culture fanatic is about to reach a turning point in his life after an exploratory trip to the U.S., when his years-long relationship starts to crumble. This is pretty much a Hornbian plot, taking into consideration the author’s bestselling novel High Fidelity that also deals with thirty-something Rob Fleming, a pop culture-connoisseur who lets his obsessions rule his life. Juliet Naked, however, gives us a brand new view of Hornby as here he dares to dive into the thoughts of a female character, Annie, which is a perspective we haven’t had in High Fidelity.
Written in 2009, the novel still offers a relevant and highly exciting view of human relationships. It focuses on men terrified of committing to women and whose preference for music and entertainment leaves little space for building a healthy relationship. This can be seen from the dialogue between Anne and Duncan at the very beginning of Juliet, Naked:
“I promise that after this holiday I won’t be so Tuckercentric,” he said…”I’ll have got him out of my system…” “I hope not.” “Really?” “What would there be left of you, if you did?”
So, here they are, a couple that has nothing in common, preferring to stay in an unfulfilling relationship than taking the risk of starting over again. Yet, as the novel progresses and they travel around the US to visit places linked with Tucker Crowe, the musician Duncan is obsessed with, Annie seems to grow aware of the nature of their relationship, realizing there is no love left between them.
Everyone disliked their partners at some time or another, she knew that. But she’d spent her hours in the dark wondering whether she’d ever liked him. Would it really have been so much worse to spend those years alone? Why did there have to be someone else in the room while she was eating, watching TV, sleeping?
She feels lonely and regrets not having kids. Duncan is dissatisfied with their relationship as well and he shows that by cheating on her. The plot starts unfolding with the release of the new version of Crowe’s old album Juliet, this one being called Juliet, Naked. Annie gives her opinion of the record by posting something for the first time on a fun page dedicated to Tucker Crowe. This leads to Duncan getting more detached from Annie, but for her it is a start of a new friendship, or something bigger, with the musician itself. Portrayed as a lonely, sad and worn-down man, Crowe regrets his past decisions concerning his family and now asks for another chance.
He would read up on parenting, if he thought it would help, but his errors always seemed too basic for the manuals. “Always tell your kids they have siblings…” He couldn’t imagine any child-raising guru taking the trouble to write that down. Maybe there was a gap in the market.
The story itself received negative criticism being described as mild. However, it’s rarely the authentic plot that we look for and expect form Hornby’s novels; it’s rather the sentiment, the humor and his simple style that make his works unique and relatable. Juliet, Naked too masterfully presents genuine human emotions, using humorous and intelligent observations to paint them vividly and realistically.
By Ana Erkić
Editor’s update: In 2018 the novel is adapted for big screen with wonderful Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke staring as Annie and Tucker. The plotline is slightly changed compared to the novel, but the story is still as compelling and relatable.
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