Tucker Crowe recorded a few albums, including one great one, and then abruptly quit the music business, disappearing from public view for two decades and driving his small but dedicated superfans into hysterics. When his record label releases a new version of that classic album stripped down to the essentials, it sparks a chain reaction of surprising potency that will eventually envelop Crowe himself.
Duncan and Annie are a quiet, childless couple in a sleepy seaside town in England, where they seem to destined to live out the rest of their lives in tranquility. Their biggest bone of contention is Duncan’s obsession with Tucker Crowe. So when Annie intercepts the advance copy of Juliet, Naked addressed to Duncan, and then has the audacity to dislike the album as well, their relationship is irrevocably altered.
Though occasionally Juliet, Naked displays the kind of cultural insight that Nick Hornby is famous for, especially in its dissection of obsession and fandom, on the whole it is a lesser work for the author, hampered by a sense of tediousness and a lack of real stakes. The plotting is a little too conventional, the attempts to integrate modern-day epistolary tactics too ham-handed, and the dialogue much too arch and self-satisfied.
Of course, Mr. Hornby is entirely too good a writer for any book of his to be a waste of time, and Juliet, Naked does contain several well-realized and humanized characters. And it’s moral, that no matter how much time one has wasted, a life is not fully wasted until it’s over, is a good and unusual one for fiction.
Still, it is hard not to make comparisons to the author’s other work, and everything here seems duller, wearier, and more sedated. A nice ending isn’t enough to fully salvage the book, just as a great final track can’t save a so-so album.