Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nick and Juliet

I first heard about Nick Hornby having a new book out from Maxine (Petrona), who highlighted a couple key points in a then recent Bookseller interview:

His new book, he says, epitomises the English "can't do" spirit. "It's a sad book because there's a sense of people who have not achieved what they wanted to achieve with their lives."

On similar, refreshingly pragmatic grounds, he has a go at the "lit snobs", otherwise known as the "literati". "I completely understand people's reluctance to pick up a literary novel that is not going to entertain them in the 30 minutes they have before they go to sleep at night. I think the world of books forgets that because so many of us do our reading during the day. That's a luxury so many people forget." Hornby has written about these themes of accessibility on his blog, saying that writers who challenge their readers without entertaining them sometimes forget that readers are people with "jobs and worries and dependents, people who are tired after a hard working day or week."


There have been about 3000 reviews of the book in The Guardian already, generally positive but also rather unenthusiastic. That pretty much sums up my view.

It's about a guy obsessed with a reclusive rockstar. Which you just know can't be good for this guy's girlfriend.

John Keenan likes the fact that Hornby offers a sensitive and moving portrayal of a woman. (Big deal! He's done that before, and so have plenty of writers.)

The second reason I enjoyed the novel more than any of Hornby's previous works, is the playful postmodern approach to the nature of fiction. Duncan's internet-based quest to uncover the truth about Crowe's retirement gives Hornby licence to have lots of fun with the fact that such endeavours produce a blizzard of egregious facts which take on a life and meaning of their own. Hornby produces faux-Wikipedia entries for Crowe and demonstrates how the insertion of one red herring can result in a fish farm of false information. Meanwhile Annie goes in search of her own truth about the relationship between life and art. Her hesitant probing produces profound conclusions about the artifice behind all artistic endeavours.


This is a pretty neat aspect actually, and on another level as well — in how we forge online identities in forums or develop email relationships.

Interview, National Post:

It's strange, Hornby agrees, that in music, rarities and bootlegs are coveted by fans; in movies, deleted scenes and outtakes are regularly included on DVDs; in the art world, something like a Picasso sketch is worth millions; but literature doesn't really function in the same way.

"I think it used to before computers," he says. "You can get The Waste Land with all Ezra Pound's notes on it, the Jack Kerouac On the Road on the scroll. There is stuff like that around. But really, the trouble with computers is it just goes. There really isn't such a thing as a manuscript anymore."


I'm not sure I agree. I think, generally, the sketch has more scholarly value than aesthetic. And it's just as true for literature, but as Hornby notes the scraps are easily lost.

Listen to the podcast of Q, September 29, in which Nick Hornby asserts that anyone is qualified to be a critic and declares he'd rather be a pop song than a symphony.

Actually, this is a pretty interesting interview, possibly even better than the novel, covering many of the same issues — the nature of art and art criticism, and artistic integrity, and what famous people can get away with.

Let's not kid ourselves. This is chick lit, albeit in a fictional reality somewhat tempered by the author's male perspective. It's reasonably well written, and I think Hornby writes relationships pretty well:

She took the CD out of its plastic sleeve and put it into the portable player they kept in the kitchen. But instead of pressing the "play" button, her finger hovered above it for a second. Could she really listen to it before he did? It felt like one of those moment is a relationship — and there enough of them in theirs, God knows — that would look completely innocuous to an outsider, but which were packed with meaning and aggression. Annie could imagine telling Ros at work that Duncan had gone absolutely nuts because she played a new CD when he wasn't at home, and Ros would be suitably appalled and disgusted. But she wouldn't be telling the whole story. She'd be telling a self-serving version, omitting the context. And, of course, it would be legitimate to feel bafflement and outrage if Ros didn't understand, but Annie knew Duncan too well. She understood. She knew that playing the CD was an act of naked hostility, even if anyone peering through the windows wouldn't be able to see the nakedness.


I prefer some of Hornby's other novels, but Juliet, Naked is a quick and thoroughly entertaining read that won't tax your brain too much, which seems to be exactly what Hornby was going for.
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