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
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
MasterChef 2014 finalists Charley Boorman, Wayne Sleep, Sophie Thompson and Jodie Kidd

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Trade unionist Ricky Tomlinson (right), later a television actor, attends a demonstration in London, 1975
theatre
News
The three-time Emmy award winner Elaine Stritch
peopleStar of stage and screen passes away aged 89
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor