At some point in our lives most of us (if not all of us) have become infatuated with someone famous. We have collected all their albums or every movie they’ve ever been in – even the ones that weren’t very good. We’ve spent hours daydreaming about what it would be like to meet them and imagining what their life is like. We’ve followed their every move through the media and speculated as to whether their current relationship is true love or just a passing fancy. For most of us this happens during adolescence, and it passes as we grow up and realize that they’re all just people behind all the photoshopped media images and hyped up social engagements. For some of us, however, this fascination becomes an obsession that becomes a part of who we are. This book is the story of just such an obsession.
Tucker Crowe was a pretty famous musician in the mid-80s. Famous enough to go to parties with movie stars and to date (and occasionally marry) beautiful models. Then one fateful night during the tour for his popular new album, Juliet, he went to the bathroom in a bar in Minneapolis and when he came out everything had changed. No one quite knows what befell him in that bathroom (rumours include walking in on his girlfriend with another man and having an epiphany after a near-overdose), but when he came back out he cancelled the rest of the tour for Juliet and disappeared.
Twenty years later, with Tucker still M.I.A., an obsessed fan by the name of Duncan drags his girlfriend Annie on a tour of notable Tucker Crowe locations in America. Duncan and Annie are from the small British seaside town of Gooleness, a town that is notable for its lack of pretention and little else and is about as charming as its name would lead you to expect. Duncan is one of the world’s foremost “Crowologists,” a group of die-never fans of Tucker Crowe who are geographically scattered throughout the world but have been brought together by the world-shrinking power of the internet. Annie is the curator of a small local museum and has vicariously become something of an expert on Tucker Crowe due to nearly two decades of her partner’s obsession. But she is finally starting to run out of patience with not only Duncan’s obsession, but with Duncan himself.
Shortly after their return to Gooleness after their three week pilgrimage, a package arrives in the mail. In this package is an advance copy of Juliet, Naked, a collection of demo versions of every song on Juliet. Duncan heralds it as a work of sheer genius. Annie thinks it’s Juliet but not as good. For Duncan, Annie’s failure to see the obvious superiority of the album leads him to question her taste and feel a sense of betrayal and disappointment. For Annie, Duncan’s staunch defence of a clearly inferior album is just proof of his stubbornness and inability to step back and take in a larger view of reality. This small disagreement proves to be the catalyst for a chain of events so unexpected that it will render their lives unrecognizable.
The characters in Juliet, Naked brought to mind some of the characters in Nick Hornby’s earlier novels in a pleasing and friendly way. These are real people; people you meet every day, have a beer with after work, possibly even see when you look in the mirror. They are unassuming (even the famous rock star among them) and as lovely and damaged as the rest of us. The story is a pile-up of unlikely coincidences, but somehow it all rings true. Through these coincidences the characters are gently prodded into examination of their own lives and the things they value. It is a story of how we learn to accept the disappointments in our lives when we are no longer young, and what we do with the messes we’ve made. Juliet, Naked is a whimsical, charming book that has the perfect balance of nostalgia and witty dialogue to make it a thoroughly enjoyable read.