Juliet, Naked

I like it when people give me books to read. I especially like it when said book proves to be as enjoyable/inspiring/well written as the recommender has promised. I’ve become a bit weary of recommendations as of late just because I’ve had a few duds. However, last night I finished reading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby and I think it has restored my faith in book recommendations.

My sister* lent me this book and inside she wrote the following note “Washed up musicians and quirky British characters. One of my favorites.” Have I also mentioned I like it when people write notes in books? It’s neat. This is why I like buying books from second hand bookstores but I digress.

Most people are familiar with Nick Hornby because of the movies that have been made from his books. These include High Fidelity and About a Boy. I enjoyed both of these films and I’ve read a couple of other of Hornby’s pieces, so admittedly I had some expectations.

Cool covers are a plus.

I’m like most readers in the respect that I like characters I can relate to. I also like smart, funny writing. I think Hornby succeeds in both these areas in Juliet, Naked. I was immediately endeared to the main protagonist, Annie, when a few pages into a description of Annie’s long term relationship, we get this nugget:

The decision not to have children had never been made, and nor had there been any discussion resulting in a postponement of the decision. It wasn’t that kind of sleepover. Annie could imagine herself as a mother, but Duncan was nobody’s idea of a father, and anyway, neither of them would have felt comfortable applying cement to the relationship in that way. That wasn’t what they were for. 

I like the frankness of Hornby’s writing and I like when author’s write about flawed relationships in a way that doesn’t make the reader cringe, but instead makes them want to read more. While it is true that there is a fair dose of melancholy in this passage, there is also some irony. They don’t want to cement their relationship? They’ve been together for fifteen years. At this point was isn’t left to cement? Well, it turns out quite a lot as the story goes on.

I also love smart, humorous writing. I tell my creative writing students that humor is the most underrated tool among authors. Everyone wants to be so serious all the time and talk about “what does it all mean?” You are certainly allowed to do that and Hornby tackles some tough issues in this book: motherhood, romantic relationships, dysfunctional families, deadbeat dads & alcoholism just to name a few. However, all of these issues are surrounded by a hilarious, obsessive narrative about a washed up rock star. The book opens with Annie and Duncan taking a pilgrimage to honor this “star,” Tucker Crowe. The opening scene begins with:

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet. The simple truth of this only struck Annie when they were actually inside it: apart from the graffiti on the walls, some of which made some kind of reference to the toilet’s importance in musical history, it was dank, dark, smelly and entirely unremarkable. Americans were very good at making the most of their heritage, but there wasn’t much even they could do here.  

As an American who spent about six months in England, I also appreciate the slight jabs that Hornby makes at our great nation. They’re not mean spirited but the fact that the biggest f*ck up in the book is American is amusing in and of itself. Then there are just the little gems that make me snicker out loud. This was one of my favorites:

The night before, Duncan had come home late and smelling of drink; he was monosyllabic, curt even, when she’d asked him about his day. He’d fallen asleep quickly, but she had lain awake, listening to him snoring and not liking him. Everyone disliked their partners at some time or another, she knew that. But she’d spent hours in the dark wondering whether she’d ever liked him. 

Does it get much more relatable? This story is interesting and quirky and the characters are kind of hopeless but their story is not. Despite all of their hangups, and believe me there are a lot of hangups, you will laugh with them, you will sigh for them and ultimately you will hope for them.

*Thanks Ash!

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