Juliet, Naked has a number of themes at its center. Like so much of Hornby’s work, it explores music. He takes things a step further than his music store obsessives in High Fidelity and has a character who is singularly consumed with the discography and life of a single performer. Although Hornby does gently poke some fun at this fellow, it’s not (totally) mean-spirited. Clearly, Hornby can understand how and why someone can want to know all of the tiny details about an artist, even if it all seems a bit silly in the end.
While it seemed early on as if this would be the book’s primary focus, things take a bit of a shift as Hornby moves away from pondering the things that make us so obsessed about certain artists (or things) and more toward intimations on mortality, unconventional middle-age romance (it’s better than it sounds, I swear), celebrity and art. Perhaps a reader needs to be a certain age (I realize with dismay that I am that certain age) to fully enjoy the novel, but I do think that anyone can relate to knowing someone who is so completely obsessed with a certain musician, television show, movie, actor or comic book to the point that it gets a little bit ooky.
I’ve watched and read a lot of works lately where one of the central conceits is a character who has seen time pass them by to the point where they feel obsolete, and it’s oddly resonant (and a little heartbreaking) every single time. Juliet, Naked takes that conceit and shows three separate characters dealing with it in their own individual ways. It’s easy to empathize with Annie, Duncan and Tucker even when they’re doing things that are less than admirable. Truth is, we all have thoughts that are kind of ugly sometimes, and we’ve done things we’re not quite proud of. That doesn’t make us bad people, even though it’s part of who we are.
I’m guessing that Juliet, Naked will be my favorite book of 2009, and I’ll be fretting and worrying that someone will ruin it with a movie version (though the original Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy are all fantastic). It definitely reads cinematically and conversationally, which is oddly a criticism some readers have of Hornby, but it works well with this particular story. I loved the characters for all their foibles and faults, and thought that I had worked out where Hornby would take them, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. It’s one of those books that I was kind of sad to finish, because my journey with the characters had ended. I miss them already.