Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review

I waited until Backbencher finished reading "Juliet, Naked" before posting my book review. I don't know when I first became a fan of Nick Hornby, but he's been one of my favorite authors for several years now. His writing on obsessive fans is tempered with a deep understanding of why fans obsess so, and deep affection for those fans. (One is tempted to wonder if he is quite so compassionate with what must surely be his legion of obsessive fans, but I will skate over that one for now.)

Backbencher's review, which you can read here, says that "the story is about the devotion that many men have to an obscure pop culture figure and how that devotion affects there relationships." And suddenly, all my intimate relationships with males up through college becomes startlingly clear.....Yet I thought the book was about something different. I saw Juliet, Naked as a story depicting the improbable ways that people try to connect with one another, whether through art, fandom, sex, or conversation. Though the characters are clearly connected through their relationship of one obscure album, the obsessive fandom is just a symptom. However, like Backbencher, I found the obsessive fan's character to be the least developed, though his interactions with his new girlfriend reveal some panic and depth I really enjoyed. The musician and the girlfriend were by far the most interesting.

Hornby seems to vacillate in many of his novels between "angriest man in Holloway" and an attempt to find meaning and hope in imperfection. I like him best when he's a little more ambiguously hopeful. There's plenty of that here. And there's usually one or two lines I just adore - but in this book, the best line gives away the entire plot, so I won't reveal it. Perhaps the second-best line is, "The inability to articulate what one feels in any satisfactory way is one of our enduring tragedies." Marvelous, right?

Not being a musician, I was curious about Tucker's epiphany at the end of the novel, about how good songwriters have to make the present the past, to fix the present in time, as it were, in order to create good art from it. The novel also implied that the most meaningful relationships in our lives do not necessarily translate into our best artistic endeavors, and that even a shallow relationship can inspire us to make great art. As one who is constantly spinning tales in my head, this is enormously liberating. In other words, one needn't be an important figure in my life to inspire important figure in a story I might write.

While this is not Hornby's best work (About a Boy wins for sheer melancholy and hope, though it is by necessity dated, fixed in time as it must be), it is a solid and enjoyable read. If you have to slog just the tiniest bit in the middle, keep going. I found the payoff to be entirely worth it!

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