Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

julietI’ve seen Juliet, Naked hailed as «Nick Hornby back on form». I’m slightly puzzled as to what he’s supposed to be back from. The phrase suggests that he’s been churning out mediocre novels, which is hardly the case. «Nick Hornby back» would be more accurate, as his last novel for adults was A Long Way Down in 2005, but 2005 is hardly that long ago, and it’s not as if he’s been sitting around twiddling his thumbs in the meantime. I suppose it’s possible that whoever thought this was Hornby back on form has really only liked High Fidelity and has been waiting for a new Hornby-novel with music geekdom as a backdrop.

Whatever. Juliet, Naked is a Very, Very Good Book™. For the record, I also think High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to be Good and A Long Way Down are Very, Very Good Books™. For me, then, this is simply Nick Hornby doing brilliantly what he’s always done brilliantly (and what I hope he will keep doing brilliantly for a very long time).

Annie has spent the last 15 years with obsessive music fan Duncan. The object of Duncan’s obsession is the reclusive singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe. As the novel starts, Annie and Duncan are on a tour of the US visiting sites connected (sometimes tenously) with Crowe, and Annie is beginning to wonder if she has wasted the last 15 years and what to do about it. They return to the sleepy little English seaside town where they live and shortly after Duncan receives an early copy of Juliet, Naked, the first Tucker Crowe release in over a decade, which consists of early versions of the songs on his signature (and last) album Juliet. Annie and Duncan’s different reactions to the album are a major part of their breakup. Annie is annoyed by Duncan’s glowing review, posted on the fansite he runs, and writes her own, which Duncan grudgingly agrees to post. She receives a couple of emails as a reaction, one of which is signed Tucker Crowe.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the infamous Tucker Crowe has his own problems. He’s preparing for a visit from a daughter he’s never met, and coming to the realisation that his relationship to his youngest son’s mother is coming to an end.

I’m not quite sure how to describe Juliet, Naked. Words like «charming» and «fetching» come to mind, but they give the wrong impression to a certain extent, a little belittling, perhaps. The novel is serious enough, for all love, and deals quite effectively with themes of love and parenting, and fandom, too. «Intelligent, charming and laugh out loud funny» – how’s that? All I can say is I had a minor crisis the day I accidentally left the book at work with only 50 or so pages left to read.

Since the middle of February

The Tale of Desperaux – Di Collofello
Very sweet. Not exceptionally good, though, and with an underlying sort of morality which bothered me. Since I rather like rats I objected to the description of them being so nasty to look at and touch (especially in comparison with mice, which are, apparently, not nasty at all), but I can understand how it might be necessary for the story. However, I can’t quite excuse the idea that a rat is a rat and can never change his nature, it smacks – to me – a little of the I’m-trying-to-be-politically-correct-but-I’m-a-racist-really premise that all, say, negroes are lazy, but it’s in their nature and they can’t really help it. Balderdash.

Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb
Very interesting, highly readable. My father just finished this when I was trying to get through Sorting Out Billy (see below) and there was no competition, really, I jumped at the chance to read something else. Lamb manages to be both informative, profound and thought-provoking and at the same time laugh-out-loud funny in places. The book contains both newly written context material and quite a few of Lambs articles from various papers and both are equally readable and absorbing. Highly recommended.

Then, a bit of a Durrell reread going on – in between all the other stuff – if I find the time and energy I might write a more detailed post on Durrell, but for now, here’s a list:
The Bafut Beagles – Gerald Durrell
Fillets of Plaice – Gerald Durrell
The Stationary Ark – Gerald Durrell
A Zoo in my Luggage – Gerald Durrell
Catch me a Colobus – Gerald Durrell
The Dunken Forest – Gerald Durrell
Himself and Other Animals – David Hughes (biography)

Sorting Out Billy – Jo Brand
I read only the first half, or thereabouts and then gave it up in disgust. Abysmally bad, actually.

The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
Entertaining, slightly scary in parts. Well worth the time.

Anybody Out There? – Marian Keyes
Excellent. I was a little worried, not being a great fan of spiritualism and trying to speak to the dead, however, Keyes managed the issue beautifully, I think, and I didn’t cringe even once.

Slam – Nick Hornby
Hornby’s first «young adult» novel, which probably should be compulsory reading for most British teenagers as a sort of literary contraception. Not Hornby’s best book – by far – from an adult point of view, but then that’s hardly the right point of view for judging it.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

A Ramble Round the Globe – Thomas Dewar
Disappointingly unoccupied with whisky or with advertising, the two main reasons I am interested in Tommy Dewar, but a rather interesting read nonetheless.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Bill Bryson
Just what you’d expect from Bill Bryson: Very good.

June to October

Dreadful. And now I can hardly remember what I’ve read all summer (and autumn…). I’m bound to leave something out.


The Imperfectly Natural Baby and Toddler – Janey Lee Grace
Interesting and contains lots of tips for things I hadn’t heard about before, but reads a blit like a list of weblinks at times (this is good for usefulness but for readability? Not so good.)

First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde
Brilliant, but missing something that I can’t put my finger on. Still, definitely brilliant. Just not quite perfect.

A Widow for One Year – John Irving
Yay! I finally got around to finishing a John Irving novel! I brought A Widow for One Year to Austria planning to release it once I’d finished, but somehow didn’t get as much reading done as I’d intended. For a long time I thought I might just leave it even if I didn’t finish, as I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading, even half-way through the book, but that would have entailed having to buy something else to read, and I never found anything I wanted to buy. By the time we were packing our bags to go home I only had a couple of hundred pages left, and found that the story had grown on me and that suddenly I could hardly put it down. Strange stuff. I might just have to buy some more Irving (especially if I find more cheap second-hand copies like this one).

Death at La Fenice – Donna Leon
A bookcrossing copy I picked up in Vienna. Pretty entertaining, I’ll probably read more Leon.

The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
On the 1001 books list. I can see why.

Intimacy – Hanif Kureshi
Also on the 1001 books list, which is why I read it. That is, I read the story actually entitled Intimacy, and struggled to get through that, despite its relative briefness and it’s status as a «classic». I’m sure it’s a brilliant portrayal of a middle-aged guy planning to leave his wife, but I just thought it was dreary. I then read the following story in the book, something Night-ish, and found that it was basically about a middle-aged guy who’d left his wife. And then I gave up. I’m sure I’m at fault rather than Kureshi, we all have our hang-ups and one of mine is that my empathy fuse blows when you mix infidelity into the story and so I fail to connect with the characters at all, which takes the fun out of it.

So Many Books, so Little Time – Sarah Nelson
Unfortunately not as good as I’d hoped. As many of the other readers of the bookcrossing-copy I read I would have liked more books and less life, I guess, but my main gripes were with Nelson’s way of presenting herself and her reading. Firstly, she talks about her «discovery» that you really don’t have to finish books you don’t like as if it’s something profound – a rite of passage, «growing up» – which rather irritated me, but then she goes on to say that she doesn’t want to discuss or give her opinion on books she’s given up on. What? You read 200 pages of a 400 page novel and then decide you really can’t be bothered to finish it, but you maintain that you don’t have the «right» to say that the book sucked (or wasn’t quite to your taste) since you didn’t stick with it to the bitter end? Seriously, if a novel doesn’t manage to capture your attention sufficiently to make you finish it has fundamentally failed in its object and you’re entitled to say whatever you like (well, ok, I’d stay away from such statements as «the ending sucked» if you haven’t actually read the ending, but you know what I mean…). It made me suspect that Nelson really hasn’t «grown up» and that she’s still uncomfortable about leaving books unfinished, for all her protestations that this is something she has learned to do. The other is with the project itself: She reads books for a living, for goodness sakes, and still 50 books a year seems to have been a daunting task? Even last year, when I really didn’t read a lot, I read that much, and I’m up to 43 (and two halves) this year, despite giving birth in January (which everyone told me would be the death of reading novels, as I’d never be allowed to, or indeed able to, concentrate for long enough). I’m not impressed.

The World According to Bertie – Alexander McCall Smith
Perfect, as usual.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby

About a Boy

In which we have growing pains.

Finally got around to rereading About a Boy this weekend. I’ve been planning to ever since the film came out, I didn’t want to see the film before I’d reread the book. So now I can see it, though it’s no longer on at the cinema, obviously, which is a pity, but I guess it’s probably not the sort of film that needs the big screen, so I guess renting the dvd will be ok.

Anyway. It’s a lovely book. No surprises, there, really – well, I already knew I liked it, obviously, having read it before – since I have yet to come across any book of Nick Hornby’s that I don’t like. I suppose I could give you a rundown of the plot, but I don’t think I can be bothered. And I don’t really have anything intelligent to say about it other than that it is lovely and you really should read it if you haven’t. Not doing a very good job of this book review thingamagig, am I? Pathetic, really.

31 Songs

In which we have a singalong.


I bought his book on World Book Day, 23 April. Not so much because it was World Book Day (though that’s always a good excuse) as because I happened to see it mentioned somewhere on the net that day and I had not previously been aware that Hornby had a new book out – and obviously I had to have it immediately.

31 Songs is not, as you might be able to guess, a novel. It’s a collection of little, hm, well, not really essays, essayettes? Well, whatever. It contains 27 chapters that all in all deal with 31 songs (in fact, rather a few more songs are mentioned), songs that Hornby for one reason or another likes and about which he feels he has something worthwhile to say. I’m a little sorry that it is not a novel, novels being my staple diet and Hornby being such a master chef, but it’s hard to wish this book were a novel instead while reading it, it’s such an extremely pleasant read. Despite having heard very few of the songs and a few of the ones I have heard I don’t particularly like (Nelly Furtado’s I’m Like a Bird, for example), I found myself nodding in agreement and recognition a lot of the time. Part of Hornby’s «purpose» is a defence of pop songs as a valid, grown-up, genre, in face of the dismissal the pop-fan will inevitably receive from jazz-buffs and afficinados of classical music (whether genuine or not).

Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles. And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do (…)

As someone who prefers Alanis Morissette to Carmen for emotional affirmation (not that I don’t like Carmen, it’s just not a CD that ends up in the player very often, whereas it’s rare for a week to go by without one or other of AM’s songs bursting from the speakers at full volume), this sort of sentiment is bound to endear the author to me. But to be honest, I’m pretty sure I’d still have enjoyed this book even if I’d disagreed with every opinion Hornby has, I am too much of a fan of his writing, his way of expressing himself, to actually be much bothered about the subject.

Now that you’ve got that off you chest, could we please have another novel from you, Mr. Hornby?