You know how it is with us authors, always having to keep up with the latest in our chosen genre (in my case, it’s romance/romcoms/chick lit). Like that’s a chore or anything, right? I’m regularly up to my eyeballs in love stories with strong heroines and guaranteed HEAs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But there are other times when even this romcom author has to go just a little farther afield. It starts as a little niggling thought in the back of my head, and whether it’s triggered by a random thought or the time of year or something in my subconscious that completely escapes my notice, the result is the same: “Time for a reread.”
We’ve all got them: those all-time favorite books that we reread every few years—sometimes every year. A lot of my romance colleagues list Gone with the Wind or Pride and Prejudice in that “gotta reread” category, and I can fully understand that. But my go-to reread isn’t your usual romance. It’s Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby.
Yep, the same Nick Hornby who wrote High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch. All of those titles far outrank his 2009 novel on favorites lists, not only in recognition but in popularity, and not just because they all have corresponding movie (and TV) versions. Juliet, Naked, falls somewhere in the middle of Hornby’s oeuvre—to be blunt, it’s plain old liked less or not as familiar as the others. (For the record, I’d watch the hell out of a movie version.)
If you haven’t read it (I wouldn’t be surprised), Juliet, Naked is about a woman who lives in a shoddy little seaside town in England. She’s questioning her life choices, especially her fifteen-year dead-end relationship with her absolute dick of a boyfriend. Then she connects via e-mail with an equally lost American musician who was famous for all of five minutes in the Eighties before he gave it all up and became a recluse. To add to the fun, the heroine’s lame-ass boyfriend is stalker-level obsessed with this obscure musician.
Depressing? Not even a little bit. Maudlin? Hardly. Boring? Never. At least, I don’t think so. The male main character, Tucker Crowe, is a fascinating study of a middle-aged man who’s made a lot of mistakes in his life and owns up to each and every one. In flashbacks and callbacks you find out he certainly was an egotistical, alcoholic jerk, which he freely admits to. Now he’s just…gently tired. Guilt-laden and haunted by a mess of regrets. He’s not too proud of his current life, either. He’s pretty darn hard on himself, even though it could be far worse. Tucker is so far beyond his laddish days that he’s achieved a sort of grace in his resignation that he’s facing the back half of his life, and as a reader, I find that a big relief. I get really tired of male main characters “of a certain age” making cartoonish fools of themselves and being stripped of everything (often literally) in the name of self-rediscovery and (shudder) redemption, that tired old trope, so I really enjoy this character’s quiet development and growth.
Annie is younger, but no less desperate, as she fears her entire life might have already passed her by. Sweet, smart, stronger than she knows, and prettier than she thinks, when she realizes she’s wasted fifteen of her best years, she doesn’t fold. She starts taking chances and trying to really live life, even in a town that doesn’t offer many opportunities to do that. Annie’s a fabulous female character, never reduced to a cliché by her male author, so thank you so much for that, Mr. Hornby.
I adore Annie, and I adore Tucker, and I adore them together.
In fact, I adore the whole book. It’s not for everybody, though. It’s so…quiet. Well written, as is Hornby’s way—it doesn’t even need mentioning, really—and simultaneously funny and touching, but not a rollicking page turner with bitchin’ explosions and shit. Oh, there are surprises and cliffhangers and other bits and bobs that keep you reading, but it never tries too hard. It’s—dare I say it?—a grownup love story.
Add to all that Hornby’s signature intimate knowledge of popular music, the vividly drawn tattered setting of a once-bustling English town whose better days are long past, plus a scathing indictment of the seedy underbelly of Internet fan sites and the pedantic keyboard jockeys who frequent them (my God, the online crazies! perfection!), and you’ve got yourself a darned entertaining read.
Of course, every time I reread the book, I always start casting the movie. I admit it. Even though Hornby’s novels have been unevenly transferred to the screen, I’d like to think a good director could make something of this one. But if it never happens, I’m okay with it. Juliet, Naked is still my literary comfort food.
Do you have an essential reread that you make sure you pick up each year or two? Share in the comments!
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