Wednesday, November 25, 2009

4. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby will be forever defined by High Fidelity. He is known for his ability to write about the modern t-shirt-and-jeans-guy who is obsessive about music and pop culture and generally clueless about relationships and being a serious grown up. In addition to fiction he has written non-fiction collections about books, music, and sports that let you know he most likely is one of those guys himself and speaks from authority.

Juliet, Naked takes a look at characters that embody many of the classic Hornby characteristics but are starting to get a bit older and starting to question the amount of time they have devoted to things that don't really seem to matter in the big picture. While that struggle and growth theme pops up in all his novels, here it seems a bit more melancholy. The novel has a kind of bittersweet tone as characters look for hope and deal with regret. Do you mourn the time you lost and the mistakes you made? Is it too late to change? And if not, how do you find the strength to make that change if your whole life has been defined by doing things that are safe, comfortable and non-challenging?

That last paragraph is going to make this book sound more depressing than it is. There is actually a lot of humor as you would expect from Hornby. This book is filled with careful observations in which we recognize a lot of our own qualities in the characters, like when a particularly moving piece of art coincides with a major life event or decision and takes on a heightened significance. And I was especially self-aware as I read the early sections where characters carefully composed reviews to post on an internet message board and then anxiously awaited the reactions and agonized over them (being that that is essentially what I was doing at the time with these reviews). I also recognize the constant self-doubt that the characters experiences when trying to get a grip on their feelings and communicate them to other people, trying to anticipate reactions and playing out whole conversations mentally before deciding how to act. Hornby is able to incorporate these embarrassingly familiar qualities into his characters and makes them simple and funny at the same time.

Still, I doubt a famous writer is going to find me by way of Pajiba and open up a dialogue in which we share intimate details of our lives within days of knowing each other- the plot of this books requires a healthy suspension of disbelief. Things also tended to work out a little too perfectly sometimes. I hate it when characters in a romantic comedy meet cute while currently in relationships with other people and then get conveniently dumped or cheated on right away so that they can continue to pursue the new relationship and still be a sympathetic character in our eyes. Events seemed to occur just when they needed to for a larger point to be made and it can be disruptive as a reader if you are constantly taking your eyes off the page in order to roll them. But I tried not to be too distracted by my nagging inner skeptic because this was, after all, just a novel, and once I started getting into the story I really couldn't wait to see where it was going next. I got swept away, and even when I thought I knew where it was going there were enough twists and turns that I was sufficiently engaged to the end.

This was a good book. Light and entertaining, but also provides a lot to think about afterward.

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