“Juliet Naked” is told from three related first-person accounts. This makes it particularly well suited to being an audiobook, with different actors reading the first person accounts. It’s an unabridged book, so you get the original prose but with the benefit of some skilful voices that add to the impact of the characterisation.
In “Juliet Naked”, Hornby tackles obsession and how the internet amplifies it, co-dependent relationships, the postponed onset of adulthood, the meaning of fatherhood, the impact of the fondly remembered past on the decaying present, and, at the heart of it, the need for love and hope and the possibility of learning to make things better.
As usual, he does all this in an accessible, often humorous way that is based on close observation of how people live their lives, leavened by some Trans-Atlantic comedies of manners.
The people in this story seem real and their predicaments seem relevant but without descending into gritty nihilism and pointless existential panic. The reality is set firmly in a storytelling framework that provides a strong authorial presence (although not an authorial voice) which promises us that there is a plot, that everything has a point and that we will believe the denouement when we arrive at it.
I think most Brit readers of 40+ will find themselves or someone they know in the three main characters.
Duncan is an obsessed, sometimes pompous, insecure man, who has arrived at middle age without ever mentally leaving his student bedsit and keeps the world at bay by building an internet-based universe focusing on the music and life of Tucker Crowe, a slightly famous American rock singer who hasn’t recorded anything in twenty years.Duncan is a Master in this universe in a way that he can never be in real life. He is a world-leading expert “Crowoligist”.
Annie, a woman adrift in her own life comes to realise that her growing dislike for Duncan, the man she has spent the past 15 years with, is fueled by anger at herself for failing to live. She is waking up in her forties to the fact that her world is hollow and she is hiding in it.
Tucker Crowe is the American one-time rock star, drunk, and serial monogamist with a weakness for tall, skinny English women, who is now 55 and doubts he will make 70 and is wondering what that means.
Hornby brings them together in a Northern English coastal town and lets events unfold in a way that gives us insight into all of them and still raises a smile.
Next time you have a long drive and you want to be stimulated while you travel and want to arrive in a good mood, listen to this audiobook. But be warned, you may end up sitting in your car when you reach your destination so you finish a chapter.
If you’d like to listen to an extract of “Juliet Naked”, click on the SoundCloud link below: