Juliet, Naked is the kind of thoroughly enjoyable read I’ve come to count on Nick Hornby for. He rarely lets me down, and I love that in a writer — when you can open a book and just know you’re going to enjoy what’s inside.
Juliet, Naked explores the murky world of fame and celebrity obsession in the Age of Internet. As most of us who spend far too much time online know, we live in an era in which a failed musician who hasn’t recorded anything in twenty years can be the subject of intense fascination and minute scrutiny by rabid fans on website who analyze and deconstruct every lyric till they are far more “expert” on the artist’s work than even the artist himself.
And that’s pretty much what has happened to non-practicing American musician Tucker Crowe, a minor musical postscript who has become a cult icon to devoted fans on the internet long after he stopped recording. One of the most obsessed of those fans is Duncan, a middle-aged British geek who makes his living teaching college classes but whose real claim to fame (in his own mind anyway) is that he’s one of the world’s leading experts on the music of Tucker Crowe.
The real expert, Tucker Crowe himself, is living in obscurity in middle America, a bit bewildered and bemused by his fans’ obsessions. Reality meets the internet when Duncan’s long-suffering girlfriend Annie, who has been putting up with Duncan’s Tucker Crowe obsession as a central feature of their incredibly boring relationship for years now, posts something on a Tucker Crowe website and gets a response from the real Tucker Crowe. As their correspondence continues, and Duncan’s and Annie’s relationship finally falls apart, Tucker moves from being Duncan’s fantasy hero to a person in Duncan’s real life, which is awkward for everyone.
Who really “owns” an artist’s work and identity — the artist him/herself or the fans who care about it, even to the point of obsession? What does it do to a person to be the focus of that kind of obsession? And what can you do with your life if you realize you’ve pretty much wasted the last fifteen years of it? These are the questions that Juliet, Naked explores — and they might be only marginally interesting questions in the hands of another writer. But Hornby’s trademark witty narrative voice and keenly observant eye make Juliet, Naked a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to (ambiguous) finish.