Nick Hornby - Juliet, Naked (3 stars)

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Nick Hornby - Juliet, Naked

(Viking)

Never meet your heroes, we are told, they’re bound to be a disappointment. But what happens when you’re going for a run in a dead-end English seaside town and you bump into an ex-girlfriend who introduces you to your all-time, number one icon? You just jog on, not believing, or not wanting to believe a word of it.

This is the pivotal meeting in Nick Hornby’s latest relationship drama, a tale fuelled by bitter, failed romance and music obsession with Duncan (the jogger) meeting Annie (the ex) who has recently hooked up with reclusive US rock god Tucker Crowe who has been in hiding since 1986, never to utter a note of music or speak a word in interviews, but siring a string of kids with various mothers.

The pleasure in Hornby’s sixth novel and his first adult fiction since Long Way Down in 2005, is in the slow set-up to this unlikely rendezvous. Annie is a music widow who has had to endure years of Duncan’s obsession with Crowe, yet when she posts a perceptive review of Juliet, Naked (an unplugged version of Crowe’s masterpiece Juliet) on a fan website run by Duncan, he is less than enamoured. So, how then can she inform him that Crowe has broken years of public silence to send her an approving email?

The story does peter away all-too rapidly and the true revelation behind Crowe’s mysterious disappearance from public life is sadly mundane. But amid the hand-wringing, Hornby can still deftly tease out the comedy from lives slowly falling apart and no one can ever doubt his astute pop culture sensibilities.

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