I’ve recently discovered that there is a specific kind of book that I love more than any other. It’s the honest love story; the tale of a failing human; lost dreams, bleak reality, and it doesn’t have to have a happy ending.
Cheery stuff, I know.
I just love the ‘realness’ of it. Life doesn’t always work out like some of the books we read. The happy ending, the achieved dreams…and I like to read about it. I can connect more with it, and I feel more for the characters.
I’ve talked about how this is why I love the ending of La La land so much.
Nick Hornby is one of the authors who does this particularly well (the other being David Nicholls). I’ve read a couple of his books now, and I’ve enjoyed both of them; namely Funny Girl and High Fidelity (both of which I would like to review sometime). I’ve also enjoyed the film adaptation of his story, About a Boy (who didn’t?) and – did you know he wrote the screenplays for Brooklyn and An Education? Both brilliant films again.
I recently finished my latest read of his; Juliet, Naked – a well-thumbed paperback I picked up in my local Oxfam Bookshop. I had no idea what I’d find inside, but because it was Hornby and I’d enjoyed lots of his work, I picked it up and actually gave up on another book I was struggling through to read it.
It’s a short tale; that’s the first thing I enjoyed about it. I didn’t feel daunted by starting it, and it’s the perfect size to carry with me on a train journey. In fact, I started reading it en route to a friend’s house for New Years celebrations.
So let’s sum it up – no spoilers, I promise. Juliet, Naked is the tale of a dissatisfied woman called Annie, her somewhat dull long-term partner Duncan, and the man they both love; Tucker Crowe, a niche rockstar who has been mysteriously hiding from the world since an uneplained post-gig experience in a toilet (or at least, that’s according to his fans).
There’s a dedicated Tucker Crowe fanbase – obsessed Crowologists – a menagerie of lost loves and the seedy charm of Gooleness, a small, very British seaside town, where all the action happens.
Along the way, we meet some brilliant smaller characters too; Barnsey, a big fan of Northern Soul; Malcom, possibly the least-helpful therapist in the world; and Jackson, a child who is a little obsessed with death. I can’t wait for you to meet them all.
My favourite part of the book is my reason for loving Hornby’s work in the first place; his characters are not completely likeable. In contrast to so many books I’ve read where the characters feel forced and unrealistic, Annie, Tucker and Duncan are all messes in their own way. They do questionable things, make mistakes, have bad attitudes and are, in places, selfish. They’re only human.
Duncan, the superfan, reminds me a lot of Rob in High Fidelity; stuck in a rut, absorbed by his music, and uncertain of what he wants. He is hung up on Annie, in the grips of a failing relationship, and so very British. He isn’t an attractive protagonist, either. Hornby really knows how to write single / unhappily shacked-up men in their thirties and forties. He is frustrating and dull, and obsessed with Tucker Crowe, which made me see him as a much younger man and not nearing middle-age. But, in fact, he has a surprising redemptive experience towards the end of the book, and it turns out that a dull, uninspiring character really can influence another.
I also love the book’s focus on unfulfilled destiny. Each of the characters’ lives have not turned out as expected; Tucker Crowe is a songwriter who can’t write songs like he used to, and a reclusive madman is mistaken for him – a surefire sign of being a bit washed up. Annie has ‘wasted 15 years’ on an undesirable but comfortable man in an equally unfulfilled grey seaside town which brings to mind images of a northern Hastings. Duncan has spent his days dedicated to someone else’s work, obsessing over the creativity and exoticness of someone else, while his personal life remains bland and haphazard.
What I mean to say is, the book is a great demonstration of the fact that life can be a let down. That things don’t turn out the way you expect, and that so many people wake up one day and wonder how they got to where they are, and what happened. It’s a comfort; the story is not out of reach, and even the far-fetched nature of how Tucker comes into Annie and Duncan’s lives isn’t that far-fetched at all once you think about it, and once you get to know Mr Crowe.
I like reality and imperfection, and that’s certainly what you get in this book.
There are bits that I’m not so keen on – after all, it’s hard to find a book that’s completely faultless. Firstly, I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. I did like how it wasn’t the classic ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but I couldn’t work out if I enjoyed the open-ended-ness of it.
I don’t mind that we don’t know what happens, and I like to be left to my own devices when deciding what the characters get up to next; that’s life. But I confess, I really started to lose interest in the second half the book. It felt weaker; Annie felt a bit less ballsy, and I found myself having to re-read sentences and paragraphs. I don’t know why – perhaps it was that I found the interaction between Annie and Tucker a little disappointing. Perhaps I expected Annie to have a little more confidence – or perhaps I really did want a happy ending, where love is found and problems are resolved.
I don’t think Juliet, Naked is my favourite work by Hornby, but I did really enjoy it (despite my uncertainty about the end). It was real, and I could easily imagine it happening in real life. Heck, it would even make for a great little British film (I’m thinking Emily Blunt as Annie, Tom Hollander as Duncan and perhaps a greying Hugh Jackman as Tucker Crowe). In fact, rumour has it that it’s being turned into a romance by Judd Apatow. I can’t wait!
If you like British films and the anti-hollywood ending, It’s certainly one to pop onto your bookshelf.