Tucker Crowe, a middling rock star from the late 70s and early 80s, disappeared from public life in the mid-80s. Since then, he hasn’t made any music or given any interviews. It’s rumored that he lives on a farm in Pennsylvania.
Duncan, half a world away in Gooleness, England, considers himself an expert on Crowe’s music, career, and the decades of silence since. He is heavily involved with a website devoted to Crowe, and pretty much centers his life on the ex-musician.
Annie is Duncan’s partner of the last fifteen years. She was introduced to Crowe’s music through Duncan and she likes it well enough, though Duncan’s obsession has led her to feel that she can never be the primary object of affection in his eyes. She wonders if she’s just wasted the last fifteen years of her life on a man who can never really love anyone but Crowe.
When a demo version of Crowe’s album Juliet, entitled Juliet, Naked, suddenly breaks through the decades of silence from the musician, it changes everything in all three of their lives.
Normally I don’t take so long to describe the setup of a book, but it would have been difficult to really summarize Juliet, Naked without all that. Each character has their own storyline, from Annie’s regret and desperation for a child, to Duncan’s romance with a world that isn’t really there, to Tucker’s struggle with mortality and decades of baggage. All three storylines are delicately woven together, and the audio version nicely has three readers to separate out Duncan’s, Annie’s, and Tucker’s sections.
Chris told me about this book back in December last year. I’d never read anything by Hornby before (and was in fact quite afraid of him). Chris mentioned a general plotline, that the book was about a couple obsessed with a former musician that barely anyone had ever heard of. He said it reminded him of my own obsession with Stiffs Inc, and that instantly sold me on the book.
I know what it’s like to love a band that hasn’t existed in over a decade. I know all about the searches for the tiniest bits of information, the hankering for new material, the joys you can get from the slightest gestures from band members. Like for Duncan, it does become a sort of romance, and you have to be careful to keep it from flipping over onto the stalker-ish side (as Duncan, sadly, is not careful enough about). The internet – with ready access, with information ranging from rumors to truth all over the place, with the sudden proximity of fellow fans for a band 99% of the population has never heard of – becomes a tool and a curse, all at once. It is too easy to take your love for a band or musician and blow it up to epic proportions. What is significant to you may just look psychotic to that musician you love. The contrast between Tucker’s and Duncan’s points of view was fascinating.
Then there’s Annie, sitting on the sidelines of this romance, knowing but not admitting until far too late that she’ll never be able to compete. By the time she realizes that she wants someone to love her most, that she wants to marry and have kids and lead a normal, non-Tucker-centric life, she’s forty and worried that she’s too old to really change anything. Her journey was actually the most interesting to me. There’s this huge thematic element, brought up both by Annie and Tucker, of wasted time. What do you do when you realize you’ve wasted 10, 15, 20 years of your life? How can you make up for that? Which parts can be considered waste, anyway? Can you bargain yourself into thinking you’ve led a more productive and useful life than you really did?
I really enjoyed this book for the most part. My only complaint was that the ending seemed to happen way too quick. I think it was meant to be cathartic, the way things happened, but instead it all seemed overly optimistic compared to the tone of the rest of the book, and it was a little too ambiguous. I actually listened to the last tracks of the audiobook several times, trying to wrap my mind around what I was hearing, wishing for a paper copy so I could just check a few things. It’s not that I mind the ending that I think it ended with (trying to avoid spoilers here) but it just seems to happen too fast, too ambiguously, too unsure. I don’t know. The climax passed over me without leaving much of an impression, which is sad because the rest of the book spoke volumes.
As for the audio production, it was pretty good. The readers for Duncan and Annie (Ben Miles and Jennifer Wiltsie) were excellent, particularly the latter. The reader for Tucker (Bill Irwin) did great when he was playing Tucker, and not so great when any of the other characters spoke, especially Tucker’s son Jackson. The book was a good one to hear on audio. Except for the very end, like the very last track, I never felt like I wanted to have a paper copy in front of me to flip through and reference things. It was easy to follow and I was completely engrossed in the story, so much so that I spent more time listening to the audiobook than actually reading in this last week!
All in all, it was a WIN for my first experience with Hornby, and I’m no longer as afraid of him as I used to be. Now I just need to decide what to try from him next.