Obsession, and a portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man
Four years after A Long Way Down, his droll, affecting novel about four would-be suicides, Nick Hornby is back. In Juliet, Naked, his new novel, Hornby returns to the territory his long-time fans will instantly recognize: obsession, fandom and popular music, the tropes that made his first two books, Fever Pitch and High Fidelity into bestsellers and him into a literary celebrity.
Duncan, the somewhat washed-out teacher in an unremarkable seaside town in England, is a fanatical admirer of the American rock musician, Tucker Crowe, who stopped recording music decades ago, and is best known for his album, Juliet. Duncan runs a website for Tucker fans, and, more than anything in the real world, is devoted to the website and the news, views, gossip and endless deconstruction of Tucker’s music that appears on it.
Then Juliet, Naked, a stripped-down, bare-bones version of the album, Juliet, is released. It provides the novel with its powerful narrative engine. It precipitates a domestic crisis for Duncan, and an explosion of reviews and comments on the website.
Hornby is always terrific on fandom and obsession, but, unlike in Fever Pitch, which was published in 1992, this is fandom mediated through the mediums of the twenty-first century: through the blogosphere and emails, through connections being made in cyberspace with absolute strangers – sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Juliet, Naked is an incisive study of the nature of fandom. It is funny and sad at the same time. Hornby has done that – marvellously – before. But there is something else here: in the character of Tucker Crowe, Hornby offers us an astute portrait of the artist as a middle-aged, embittered man, a chastening revelation of the emptiness and desolation that lies behind the success and the adulation that fans get to see.
Here is Hornby talking about the novel.