Monday, November 2, 2009

Juliet, Naked

It’s no fun being mad with an artist you love, and at the risk of sounding like one of the “Croweologists” that he so successfully skewers in Juliet Naked; I’ve been mad at Nick Hornby for a long time. Hornby was one of the first “adult” novelists I’ve loved, and he was the first to really break my heart. His first two books High Fidelity and About A Boy remain incisive, funny, warm, human little books, that I still love to revisit. His splendid non fiction is a pleasure unto itself, and I can still remember the acrid sting of disappointment when I failed to connect with How To Be Good.

Things might be different now, all in all its not really surprising that a fifteen year old boy didn’t really get a novel written about a frustrated forty something year old woman’s divorce. But I don’t think it was as simple as “Not getting it.” It’s obviously a novel in which Hornby tries to push himself out of his comfort zone, trying to prove he could right more then “lad lit” but well he went a bit too far.

A Long Way Down and Slam where a lot more troublesome. Slam was Adequate. A solid C+ but nothing to write home about, it has plenty of nice Hornby moments, but also spends a great deal of time on a somewhat baffling time travel plot. A Long Way Down on the other hand is one of the few books whose title can send me into a blind rage. A perfectly nice fifty page novella sadistically stretched to over 400 page of some of the falsest prose I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.

To make matter’s worse Hornby kept releasing wonderful books of criticism to remind me just what it was that I valued so much about his warm conversational prose in the first place. I just had to wonder when he could do it with his fiction as well.

The answer comes in with Juliet Naked. It’s not perfect, it suffers from a lot of Hornby’s problem. Such as underdeveloped secondary characters who show up for a scene, which is odd since excellent supporting characters used to be what Hornby did. One of the three main characters is a pretentious unlikable twat, and the book doesn’t so much end as it does shrug its shoulders and stop. But it’s the first Hornby novel in along time that feels complete. Funny, human and even a little wise about art, ownership and disappointment in their many different forms.

Following a couple, Annie and Duncan, who end a twenty year long relationship after the new release from a “reclusive” musician Tucker Crowe they both love ends up exposing the cracks under their unfufilling but easy co habitation. Then in a rather perfect touch, Crowe contacts Annie and they start a correspondance. Crowe is a wonderful Hornby character, a befuddled misanthrope who can’t quite see what all the fuss is about, and is only partially redeemed by his self knowledge and regret. For the first time since About A Boy it feels like Hornby has a firm grasp of what he wants to write about and from the opening pages, to it’s rather perfect epilogue he keeps the idea firmly in mind.

Juliet Naked isn’t perfect, in fact a lot of its problematic, but it’s the first Hornby novel in ten years that I feel like revisiting. And that says a lot.


Neil Fulwood said...

Sounds like we're on the same page here (sorry: bad pun). After the twin disappointments of 'How to be Good' and 'A Long Way Down' - which I felt like hurling across the room, its glib falsity pissed me off that much - I'd written him off. Based on your review, though, I think I'll give 'Juliet, Naked' a chance.

Bryce Wilson said...

I'm glad to find that I'm not the only one who found A Long Way Down a complete loss.

Juliet's not perfect, so you might want to wait for paperback, but it's messy and alive, and Tucker Crowe is the best character Hornby's created since the" twins" in About A Boy.