Viking £18.99 (249pp) £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Juliet, Naked, By Nick Hornby

Compassionate comeback for the tracker of our tears

Can it be 17 years since Nick Hornby scored so gloriously on his debut with Fever Pitch, a book written with such youthful disregard for literary form? There were groans of disbelief in publishing circles that he was kicking off his career with a memoir about football. Men don't read, let alone football fans, was the field of play at the time, especially with a sensitive and elegantly crafted examination of male brittleness as a goal.

Men get a tough time in Hornby's novels, and age seems to wither them further. Rob Fleming in his first novel High Fidelity is a comic and exuberant character whose obsession with music and lists conceals a fragile soul incapable of normal relationships. One of his favourite songs is "Tired of Being Alone". If there is redemption and feel-good in that novel, then Will Freeman in About a Boy embodies anguished fecklessness to a degree that creeps close to the A-side of weird.

Perhaps in a step away from the psychic sock of the lonely male, How to be Good is narrated by Katie Carr, a doctor who thanklessly attempts to cure husband David of what could be seen as a bipolar condition. From the Angriest Man in Holloway to a do-gooder giving away his money and offering his spare room to the homeless, David succeeds in getting everything wrong. The comedy is bittersweet but Hornby invests Kate with resilience and humanity despite the zero return of the novel's last line: "I catch a glimpse of the night sky behind David, and I see that there's nothing out there at all".

A Long Way Down plays a neat foursome with the "less than zero" option. Two men and two women meet at the top of a tower block and contemplate suicide. The women have relationship problems but it is the men who are the more obvious failures. Chat-show host Martin Sharp has "pissed his life away" and spent three months in prison for sleeping with a 15-year-old girl, while ex-rock star JJ, now a pizza delivery man, wants to "take the Vincent Van Gogh route out of this world". Suicide is cool.

Now we have Juliet, Naked: a return to the groove of High Fidelity, but in a more scratched and pitted world, the stylus of life blunted by time and repetition. Duncan, an older version of Rob, is stuck in a dull northern seaside town, with a job that barely taxes him and an all-consuming obsession with the music of Tucker Crowe, an American singer-songwriter who has produced nothing for 22 years. Duncan's partner, Annie, is similarly washed-up and can only occasionally scrape together "a faint conditional affection" for her man. Like many Hornby heroines, she is another "smart woman obliterated by their men". Her deep melancholy is profoundly affecting.

When Tucker releases Juliet, Naked, a demo of his last album, Duncan sings its praises in messianic fashion on the internet, while Annie thinks it's crap. When she expresses her disdain in a blog, Tucker begins a correspondence with her that transforms both their lives. "The internet had changed everything: nobody was forgotten now".

Tucker Crowe doesn't know who he is or how to authenticate himself. His identity has been stripped bare by the numerous false versions created by fans on the net, as if he's been forensically dissected until there's nothing left. Annie's scepticism begins to restore what's left of his integrity.

Juliet, Naked is funny, wise and humane, and Hornby's observations are as witty and pointed as ever. Tucker Crowe looms large like a Pink Floyd inflatable - baggy, blackly humorous, overburdened, over-sexed and mired in regret: "his whole life slipped away without him noticing". He is searching for "a woman who admires fecklessness and indolence in a man". Despite his catastrophic flaws, he's an endearing personality, a survivor who brings Annie back to life even when "anything to do with getting older rarely indicates good news" The good news is Hornby's artistry: his keen eye and compassion for everyman's misdirection, for bent and broken lives that may never be repaired but can at least grow old disgracefully.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz