I have to be honest, I have actively resisted reading any Nick Hornby books in the past. For whatever reason, right or wrong, I didn’t think they’d be ‘for me’. Whether it was the films, the subject matter (I think I always thought they were ‘romantic’ books, about couples meeting in odd circumstances – at football grounds, in music stores or because of a child who didn’t fit in at school) or the fact that he’s a gunners fan (just kidding) I just put him firmly in the ‘not for me’ category. All this changed a couple of months ago when we read About a Boy in our book club … after some of the rather dire thrillers they’ve put us through I thought it would be churlish not to try it. Got it, read it, loved it. It is still about relationships but it is definitely ‘for me’, his writing is funny and insightful full of little touches, characteristics and thoughts that immediately made me think of people I knew and could identify with. The story went from one seemingly improbable situation to another quite realistically and immediately hooked me, I couldn’t put it down.So when another book club I’m in also suggested a Nick Hornby book (Juliet Naked) I was really looking forward to it and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s the same humour (note the email conversations and online chat forum excerpts that end each chapter, he manages to exactly capture the funnier aspects and crazed dynamics of the message boards with several strangers trying to argue that their opinion is the better one, that they know more about an obscure singer-songwriter than the next person and then the non-fan coming in and rubbishing their views claiming that the singer he prefers is far superior …) and the same depth to the characters that make you believe in them. The title refers to a new, stripped down, acoustic album of demo versions of songs by a singer-songwriter (Tucker Crowe) from his most famous album called “Juliet” that has recently been released. It’s the first new material from Tucker in about 20 years and no-one has seen or heard from him in all this time; Duncan, the founder of the Tucker Crowe fanclub website (his fans, mainly middle aged men, like to refer to themselves as Crowologists), is the first to receive it and rushes to be the first to write a (very) enthusiastic review of it while his long suffering partner Annie who has had to put up with Duncan’s obsession for all things Tucker (when Annie observes that she has long accepted the Crowe thing as "part of the package, like a disability", you know all you need to know about life with Duncan) disagrees and also puts up a review of the album expressing her differing view of it. This then leads to Tucker (reclusive for two decades) contacting Annie to agree with her disparaging views (stick with me here … unlikely I know but at no point do you ever put down the book thinking; “yeah … as if!!”). A friendship then develops between Annie and Tucker over emails and at this time we are introduced to Tucker (nothing at all like the picture Duncan has portrayed, no doubt this is what Nick Hornby had in mind, showing us that our idols are not as we think of them but just as real and with the same problems as ourselves) and his extended family of famous ex-models, ex-wives and step-children and the truth behind the myth that has developed surrounding Tucker from Duncan and the other Crowologists. This is very well done and we can see exactly how the larger-than-life legends have developed, what Tucker thinks of them (and also of the people claiming that these are facts!) and the truth behind them. In fact at this point I can do no better than steal a sentence from another review which perfectly captures the book; “ The book’s likably bleak humour lies mostly in Hornby's pitch-perfect examination of male fandom … and the way in which the web has enabled fans to stalk and even, somehow, take possession of their idols from the safety of darkened bedrooms.” When Tucker inevitably comes across to England to visit Annie after Duncan leaves her following an affair at work there seems no way of proving to Duncan that this is in fact Tucker Crowe the person he has idolised all his life because as they say he knows more about Tucker than Tucker himself! By the end of the book what happens to the characters is left beautifully unclear, we are not let down with a sickly sweet soppy ending where Annie and Tucker go off into the sunset hand in hand and Duncan is happier and far more content for having met his idol but instead we are left with the possibilities of this happening. Annie discusses at the end with her therapist (a sort of physical voice-in-her-head character used to show us what she is thinking and feeling) all the options available to her - staying in Goolness (a fictional and dismal north eastern seaside town well past its heyday) or going to America to start a new life, possibly with Tucker or possibly without. Because of the events in the books everyone seems to have come out better and stronger with both Duncan and Annie happier (the former in his own way and the latter with seemingly impossible-to-conceive-before avenues open to her now, for example the idea of moving out of Goolness) and Tucker as well has been touched and come to terms with his semi-celebrity status and fans and releases a new album of new material which is discussed on Nick Hornby’s fictional online chat forum at the end in one of the books funnier moments … I’ll not spoil it for you but I do hope you read this yourself to find out … highly recommended.