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Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Juliet, Naked

I was telling Cynthia earlier today that Nick Hornby is the poet laureate of the Male Obsession Syndrome (MOS). That's the mode many men (ok, maybe all men) get into where they'll obsess over a topic of interest and spend all their time thinking about it until they know every darn detail about everything. So you'll get the guy who knows everything there is about Spiderman, including every obscure super-villain who's ever showed up in Amazing Spiderman issues #1-500. High Fidelity was about a music geek, Fever Pitch was about being a soccer geek, How to be Good is about becoming a philanthropic geek...

And now Juliet, Naked, is about being a washed-out singer-songwriter-obsessed man. Or rather, that's what you think until you realize that the book is really being told from the perspective of the girlfriend of such an obsessed person, who's slowly realizing that her biggest rival isn't another woman, but the object of Duncan's obsession.

Slowly, as we go through the novel, we realize that the novel is really about the woman's counter part to MOS --- the need of a woman (in this case Anne) to obsess over her relationships, family, her need to live up to someone else's expectations, and somehow, in the midst of all that fulfill her own needs. Into the mix we throw in the object of Duncan's obsession, the singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe, who withdrew from the limelight some 15 years ago after his best-selling and brilliant album, Juliet.

When the acoustic recordings are released as Juliet, Naked, Duncan receives it and immediately blogs about it. Anne, having heard it and decided that it wasn't as good as the original Juliet, writes a counter-argument and receives a surprising e-mail response from Tucker Crowe. When Tucker visits England to in somewhat forced circumstances, Anne and Tucker finally meet, and the novel sets about providing the comedy of failed expectations and the messiness of the aftermath of a rock star's career.

While the book is funny at times, it does not have the same spark as How to be Good (still my favorite Hornby novel) or the freshness of High Fidelity. The ending feels as though Hornby wrote himself into a corner and didn't know how to extricate himself. Waiting to check it out of the library was the right decision.

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