The press release accompanying my copy of Juliet, Naked describes the novel as Nick Hornby “writing about what he does best: rock ’n’ roll, extreme fandom, and the truths and lies we tell ourselves about love.” I disagree. Juliet, Naked is about the Internet.
Sure, music plays a role. The story centers around Tucker Crowe, a once acclaimed American singer-songwriter who hung up his promising music career after a mysterious moment at a Minneapolis club in 1986. The title comes from the name of a stripped-down acoustic version of Crowe’s “legendary breakup album,” Juliet. Extreme fandom brings the reclusive musician into the orbit of Annie, whose ex is one of the world’s handful of obsessive “Crowologists.” And Hornby’s characters cycle through many lies and—sometimes—truths about love.
But Juliet, Naked touches much more on the Internet than it does on rock, fandom or the ways of love. Duncan, Annie’s nerdy ex, is the creator of a website frequented by a few frighteningly devoted Crowe fans. So devoted, in fact, that they’ve filled the site with a mythology of mostly untrue stories about the man. The release of the never-before-heard acoustic album sends shockwaves through this small online community, and Duncan scurries to post a passionate review declaring it far superior to the studio version. When Annie posts a dissenting response, Crowe e-mails her, the two strike up a correspondence and she quickly finds herself on a level of intimacy with the songwriter that her ex would have killed for. All thanks to the Internet.
And, while websites and e-mails help Annie and Crowe connect from across the Atlantic, Juliet, Naked also shows that such technology can impede in-person communication and exacerbate situations. When Crowe actually visits Annie at her seaside Northern England home, he can only reveal the root of his troubled life by typing an e-mail and letting her read it off the screen. Later, Crowe thinks of his overly obsessive fans as “a handful scattered all over the globe. Fuck the Internet for collecting them all in one place and making them look threatening. And fuck the Internet for putting him right at the center of his own little paranoid universe.”
Just as no online comment thread comes to a definitive end, Juliet, Naked doesn’t reach a solid conclusion. Duncan has his perspective of his favorite artist turned on its head when Annie introduces him to Crowe, but he continues being a fan. Annie falls for Crowe, possibly becomes pregnant with his child and then watches him walk out the door. Crowe goes back to his Pennsylvania home and releases a severely underwhelming comeback album. The book ends with a series of posts about the new album from Duncan’s website, starting with a thoughtful negative review and descending to a poignant “Dear God.” It’s a clever way for Hornby to drive things home, but it doesn’t help Juliet, Naked reach the heights of his first novel, the truly music-centric High Fidelity.