Author: Nick Hornby
Title: Juliet, Naked
Publication Info: Riverhead Hardcover (2009)
This novel is about three people: Duncan an English man-child obsessed with an American singer/songwriter who abruptly quit show business in the 1980s, his long-suffering girlfriend Annie who is realizing that she may never have children, and the retired musician himself Tucker Crowe who is trying to raise his six-year old son after failing to be a good father to four other children. Annie & Duncan break up after Duncan’s infidelity and at the same time a review Annie posts on Duncan’s internet message board attracts the attention of Tucker. Annie & Tucker develop an online correspondence and soon – surprise – he has reason to visit England.
This novel has a lot of the same themes of Hornby’s other works – music, geeky obsessions, muddled relationships, parenting, and recognizing one’s own mortality. I really couldn’t get into to at first because the characters were annoying me especially since they kept talking about a fictional musician. 80 pages in, when Tucker finally appears, I started to warm up to it. For all his flaws, I like Tucker for his relationship with his young son (albeit if that son doesn’t seem to act 6 years old). But then the book just falls apart with far too many unlikely happenings and the characters not responding in a real way but more like sitcom characters.
Yes, I’m harsh on this book. It is an entertaining, quality brain candy read. On the other hand I know Hornby is capable of much better.
Publication Info: Pantheon (2008)
This is a novel written by a Dutch man Hans who marries a English woman Rachel and together move to New York for business. There they have a child and their marriage begins to crumble. The September 11th attacks prove to be a catalyst for Rachel to demand a separation, returning to England and leaving Hans alone in New York. The novel is the story of the three years Hans spends adrift in New York. Two things are prominent in this time – Hans renewed love for playing cricket with Carribean and South Asian immigrants in Staten Island and Hans’ odd friendship with Trinidadian entrepreneur/thug Chuck Ramkissoon.
The novel is non-linear and jumps between ruminations on Hans’ loneliness in New York with memories of his childhood in Holland and marriage with Rachel. Hans seems to be a man with no passion for anything, unable to make friends in any traditional manner, and easily lead about by Chuck on his various schemes. The book is also peppered with wonderfully humorous and seemingly random vignettes.
This is a slow-moving book (in a good way I think, although I could see how someone could find it boring) with a focus on the interior life of the troubled narrator. There are no easy answers or resolution either although the time of exile does come to an end and some revelations are made. I enjoyed this well-written book and it may end up being on my list of favorites for the year.
Recommended books: Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball by Ed Smith and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.