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Naked’ truth: Why ‘High Fidelity’ fans will hate Hornby’s latest

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Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Smith Galtney

Fifteen years after Nick Hornby’s debut, High Fidelity, transformed that lowliest form of cultural fanatic—the pop-music obsessive—into the likable, even lovable, leading man of a winning romantic comedy, the best-selling Brit’s back on familiar turf with his sixth fictional offering, Juliet, Naked, which features another developmentally arrested male who’s trapped in a codependent relationship with his record collection. Chances are Fidelity fiends are not amused. Here’s why:

1. VINYL READS BETTER THAN MP3S

Make no mistake: High Fidelity’s Rob was a loser, and not a very beautiful one, either. Still, as far as vinyl-hounding, socially inept, involuntarily celibate males go, he was the kind of bloke even GQ readers proudly related to. (Lloyd Dobler even played him in the movie!) He lived in London, used to be a DJ and bagged a chick singer named Maria. He also owned his own record store and was infinitely cooler than Dick and Barry, his part-time clerks, who still clocked full-time hours, for lack of anything better to do.

Juliet’s Duncan, by contrast, doesn’t get out much. When not teaching at the local university in a dead-end seaside town called Gooleness, he’s maintaining a website dedicated to Tucker Crowe—a reclusive folk-rocker whose last album, a classic breakup opus called Juliet, came out in 1986. Being one of the world’s leading “Crowologists,” Duncan thinks a vacation is to schlep Annie, his live-in partner of 15 years, across the Atlantic and inside a men’s room in a Minneapolis bar, where Crowe allegedly had an experience so profound, it caused him to leave music and the public eye behind for good.

And what does Duncan have to tell his girlfriend while standing before those mythic urinals? “If toilets could talk, eh?” Ewww …

The Details

Juliet, Naked
Nick Hornby.
Riverhead, $26.
Amazon: Juliet, Naked

2. CHICK LIT SUCKS

Where High Fidelity was Rob’s story, Duncan is merely a supporting character in Juliet, Naked. When Duncan receives a promo copy of Juliet, Naked, a collection of acoustic demos Crowe recorded way back when, Annie has the gall to listen to it first, then disagree with Duncan’s assessment that it’s Crowe’s masterpiece. They post opposing reviews to Duncan’s website, and quicker than you can say Blood on the Tracks, Annie’s become cyberpals with the real Tucker Crowe.

From here on, Juliet, Naked may as well be called Annie, Yearning, as Hornby offers page after page filled with internalized worry over so many wasted years with a deadbeat like Duncan and, of course, that ever-ticking biological clock. Who let a chick into the tree house? And why’s she judging us!?

3. GROWING OLD SUCKS

If High Fidelity qualified as a feel-good tale, complete with a happy ending in which Rob not only got to keep the girl but his record collection, too, Juliet, Naked gives the impression that Hornby may have at last become a man and may even be ready to put away childish things. As if Annie’s endless pontificating didn’t make Duncan’s pop obsessions look pathetic enough, Hornby includes a subplot involving all-night “northern soul” parties, where DJs play rare R&B 45s and the dance floor is covered with talcum powder and middle-aged men doing handstands and backflips. Remember that moment in High Fidelity when Barry made fun of that customer who wanted a copy of “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? The joke’s on us now.

4. WE HATE IT WHEN OUR FRIENDS BECOME SUCCESSFUL

God, that Hornby f--ker … He used to be one of us, you know. Before Fever Pitch was made into a play, then a movie, then another movie. You knew something was wrong when he allowed High Fidelity to become a musical. A musical, for Chrissake! Now he’s off writing screenplays and shit, only one of them that’s actually been produced. The only good piece of writing he’s done since About a Boy is Songbook, that collection of music essays. But even in that, he wrote about Nelly friggin’ Furtado. Did you read that trite-ass novel he wrote about all those random people who wanna commit suicide and coincidentally meet at the top of a building on New Year’s Eve? Yeah, I didn’t either …

5. IT’S OVER 300 PAGES LONG!

Back in 1995, when High Fidelity came to be, people actually formed opinions about a certain book by reading the actual book. Now who couldn’t tear themselves away from MP3 blogs to concentrate on, you know, something else? Show of hands, guys. Don’t be shy …

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