Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Hornby – Nick’ Category

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I knew I was in safe hands from the very first sentence of Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, who is a reliably entertaining author.

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.

Obviously, I had to know what happened next.

The story follows Annie, who is an almost middle-aged woman. Annie’s boyfriend Duncan is obsessed with a musician who disappeared from sight twenty-odd years ago, after writing the best break-up album of all-time. Duncan actually asked Annie to take a photo of him in the toilet in the dingy club in Minneapolis where Tucker Crowe was believed by his fans to have made the decision to walk away from his music career.

The first half of the book was terrific. I loved learning about what Tucker Crowe’s music meant to Duncan and how Annie accommodated Duncan’s obsession. I hoped for better things for Annie as she would always be second-best in Duncan’s heart and worse, she didn’t care particularly for Duncan anyway. They had fallen into a relationship many years ago after moving to a small and remote seaside town, but their shared interest in films wasn’t much to start a relationship on and still less to keep one going, but they stayed together long past the time when they should have gone their separate ways.

The beginning of the end of Annie and Duncan’s relationship came when Juliet, Naked, an acoustic version of Tucker Crowe’s break-up album was released. Duncan thought the album was genius and Annie thought it was rubbish. She posted a review on a Tucker Crowe fan site on the internet, and Tucker Crowe responded to her, telling her that he agreed with her opinion. Annie didn’t tell Duncan that she and the famously reclusive Tucker Crowe had been emailing each other, and at the same time Duncan, disappointed by Annie’s failure to agree with his opinion, started an affair with another woman.

In the second half of this story Annie actually met Tucker Crowe, but in some ways, I preferred him as the mysterious subject of his fan’s speculations rather than as a more ‘real’ character. Having said that, I wouldn’t turn down the chance to meet any of my music idols years either.

I believe Juliet, Naked has been made into a movie, too, which I hope to watch sometime.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby


A Long Way Down is the third book I’ve read by Nick Hornby. Funny Girl and High Fidelity by this author also hit the spot when I was looking for something fun to read.

I would never have expected a story about four people who are planning suicide to be funny, but A Long Way Down was laugh out loud funny. Miss S asked me a few times what I was laughing at, and very often it was hard to explain why. For example, me; “Well, these four people meet when they are planning to jump off a building, when it turns out that one of them can’t jump because the other people are looking at them.” Miss S rolled her eyes and went back to her own book. (Divergent, in case you’re wondering).

The four would-be jumpers are a diverse bunch. They include a minor celebrity who went to jail after having sex with an underage girl, a single mother of a severely disabled child, a teenage girl with mental health problems and a failed rock god. They met accidently at the top of a building colloquially known as ‘Topper’s House’ on New Year’s Eve, surprising each other as they prepared to jump.

The four ended up telling each other their stories, although one fellow greatly enhanced his reason for jumping as his real reason seemed to him a bit pathetic after hearing the others. After much discussion, they eventually all take the stairs back down together and spend the rest of New Year’s Eve together. The next morning they agree to meet regularly to provide emotional support to each other.

Parts of this book are genius. I could understand why each character wanted to jump, but was able to laugh with them too. The language is spot-on too. One of the characters is the type of person who other people apologise to every time they swear, and as three of them swear constantly, their sentences were peppered with, “Sorry Maureen.” Swearing generally annoys me, but with these characters, swearing is an integral part of who they are. I can’t imagine them not swearing

Each character’s despair was genuine too, regardless of whether their troubles were self-inflicted or because of their lot in life.

One of the characters doesn’t sugar coat her words, and while empathising with another, described his situation as follows, “You thought you were going to be someone, but now it’s obvious you’re nobody.” Harsh, but true, especially when fame and fortune are a character’s goal.

I won’t spoil this for anyone else by saying if any of the characters eventually jump or not, but I’m glad they took the stairs back down on New Year’s Eve. I loved this dark comedy, and look forward to reading other Nick Hornby books.




Funny Girl by Nick Hornby


Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby is very readable. Set in the 1960s, it is the story of Barbara Parker, a girl from Blackpool who wants to be a comedian. Barbara’s idol is Lucille Ball.

Barbara entered and won the Miss Blackpool 1964 contest, but declined the title on realising she would be required to stay in boring Blackpool for a year to carry out her official duties. Instead of taking on the role of Miss Blackpool, Barbara moved to London where she took a job selling cosmetics in a department store. On a date with a customer at a famous nightclub, Barbara met a theatrical agent who immediately employed her and changed her name to the more glamorous Sophie Straw. (Sigh. Fulfilling their ambitions is ridiculously easy for very beautiful people, particularly in novels).

After just three weeks of unsuccessfully auditioning for modelling, radio and television roles, Sophie auditioned for a television show on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse. At the audition, Sophie, the writers, producer and another actor immediately clicked, and spent a happy afternoon bouncing ideas off each other to improve the script. By the end of the afternoon, the writers had re-written their script as a vehicle for Sophie to star in. The show was called Barbara (and Jim), with Sophie playing a woman married to someone who was her opposite in every way.

The story of Funny Girl itself isn’t funny, but it is a very enjoyable story of a group of people who work together to make a wildly successful television show. Sophie is the main character, but the two writers, the producer and other actors all play roles in this story too.

Sophie becomes famous in England, and at the height of her fame meets her idol, Lucille Ball. Eventually, though, the series ends, and for the rest of their lives, most of those involved in Barbara (and Jim) look back at their time working on the show as the best time of their lives.

While I was reading Funny Girl I couldn’t work out if the story was real or fictional. The edition I read contains photos from the era of beautiful girls in swimmers competing for the title of Miss Blackpool, a photo of a nightclub called The Talk of the Town nightclub, (in the photo The Seekers are headlining), a photo of a very young and unlined Mick Jagger at a restaurant frequented by Sophie and more. When I read that nearly all of the episodes of Barbara (and Jim) had been destroyed by the BBC I was horribly disappointed, only to have it confirmed at the end of the book that the show didn’t exist, and was an invention of Nick Hornby for the purposes of the book.

Funny Girl isn’t a book that will live in my memory forever, but I did enjoy the story, the time and setting and the look at pop culture from those who were creating it. The photos are great too. I think the moral of Funny Girl is that comedy is as valuable to society as anything else and should be valued as such.





High Fidelity by Nick Hornby


High Fidelity is the first Nick Hornby book I’ve read, although I’ve seen the movies Fever Pitch and About a Boy, which were based on his books. (Colin Firth was in Fever Pitch, which is a good enough reason for me to watch a movie).

Rob, the hero of this book, makes me feel anxious that the men in my life are not all they appear to be. Rob worries about stupid stuff, does stupid stuff and makes lots of stupid decisions. He is a very funny character, although more in a ‘laughing at him’ than a ‘laughing with him’ way. Do men really think like Rob? My ‘laughing at him’ was more than slightly nervous.

The book starts with Rob listing his five worst breakups with women. Four of them happened when he was still in school. One of Rob’s five most heart wrenching breakups was with someone he went out with for three days when he was thirteen years old. Several days before breaking up with another girlfriend, in high school, Rob almost got a tattoo with her initials. Luckily the tattooist wasn’t convinced it was true love and the tattoo didn’t happen.

Rob’s most recent break up was with Laura and he is at great pains to let the reader know she doesn’t make his top five breakup’s list. After Laura moves out Rob is at first elated, thinking about all the things he will be able to do now, namely; smoke in their flat, shag around and paint record label logos on the lounge room wall. But despite all of his big talk about not missing Laura, Rob eventually does realise that he misses her, particularly when he learns she has been seeing someone else.

I’m on Laura’s side here. Rob is 35 years old, has a failing business and has never really taken any responsibility in his life. He is still keeping his options open emotionally, while Laura has grown up.

High Fidelity is a little dated as it was set during the nineties. Rob owns a record (vinyl) shop, people smoke cigarettes and a lot of the descriptions of clothes, music and pop culture have clearly moved on.

I actually did enjoy High Fidelity, despite feeling alternately amused by and annoyed with Rob and his insecurities. He is entertaining and his character does actually evolve as the story develops. I just wouldn’t want to go out with him.

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