Book Review: Juliet, Naked

Nick Hornby
Riverhead, 2009
416 pages


At 416 pages, it would seem that Juliet, Naked is a long book, but it's not really. Not long in that it takes long to read, anyway. The trim size is small, and the print isn't, and besides all that, it's practically impossible to put down.

In Hornby's best since About a Boy, the author melds interesting characters—something he's always been good at—with an actual plot, which in past novels have sometimes been rather thin. Not saying Hornby hasn't done good work in the past. Of course he has. He typically takes the mundane moments in life and collects them around the characters he creates. But Juliet, Naked expands on that. The mundane gets a bit of the extraordinary thrown into it, and the world of the characters starts to spin in a different direction.

In a nutshell, and without giving too much away, the story is about Annie and Duncan. They've been together for 15 years, their relationship's growth stunted by lack of motivation to get past their own ideas about themselves: that they are (alas, were) college students, academics with interesting ideas and refined tastes. Duncan in particular is rather pleased with himself in general, considering himself an expert on his favorite musician among other things, wrapped up in pop culture of the obscure—and therefore high-minded, in his view—kind.

Annie, on the other hand, has begun to see things differently. And there is clearly no dragging Duncan out of the quicksand he's chosen to stand in, so . . . it's either sink with him or climb to safety on her own.

The crux of the story revolves around Duncan's favorite singer Tucker Crowe, who has fallen off the map almost literally; Crowe gave up his career 22 years before and no one has heard from him since, though one stalking fan claims to have taken a picture of him on a farm in rural Pennsylvania.

But really, the story is a jab at the academics who somehow believe "independent" and "rare" is somehow better than "common" and "popular." Duncan is insufferable and pathetic, and one never quite knows whether to feel sorry for him. He's an imbecile, so it's difficult to stay angry with him—rather like a stupid dog that isn't entirely sure what it's done to get yelled at—though there are a couple moments where Duncan comes close to understanding where he's gone wrong.

The story is mostly Annie's, a nice enough girl who is trying to figure out how to make up for 15 wasted years. Surely anyone who has spent time in a long relationship that has gone nowhere can sympathize.

In the end, it's a fine read with all of Hornby's hallmark humor set against the usual bouts of angst and self-doubt. It's about mistakes of the largest, most life-altering kind, and about the potential for redemption regardless of the size of the sins.

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