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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regrets, I've Had a Few..., 14 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Juliet, Naked (Hardcover)
Obviously there's deep irony in posting a review of a new book by one of my favorite authors when one of the key elements of the book's plot is an adoring fan's online review of a new album...but oh well. I have to admit, I was a little leery when I cracked the spine of Hornby's latest novel. After setting the bar ridiculously high with his first two books, Fever Pitch and High Fidelity, Hornby has continued on to produce a series of engaging, but not quite as brilliant successors. And it had to be said that his last adult novel, A Long Way Down, was distinctly underwhelming. Fortunately, this new book represents a return to form, as well as being a work that speaks to an older (though probably not wiser) audience than his previous work.

The mechanics of the story are relatively simple: Annie and Duncan are a cohabitating couple approaching 40 as they eke out moderate existences as a small museum director and college instructor, respectively. They've been together for 15 years, and about the only thing keeping them together is inertia and the lack of prospects in the seaside cultural wasteland they live in (a fictional town on England's eastern coast, somewhere near Hull -- roughly the American equivalent of a small, tacky, Jersey shore town). Duncan is obsessed with an obscure American singer-songwriter from the '80s who inexplicably walked away from music one day, and spends a great deal of his time and energy running a website devoted to the mysterious Tucker Crowe. One day, a "new" Tucker Crowe album is released (it's actually the demos from a concept album beloved by his fans), and Duncan and Annie's differing reactions to it trigger a chain of events which brings the reclusive ex-musician into their lives in the flesh.

Here, we have three main characters who are middle-aged (as Hornby himself is) in a story whose dominant theme is mortality and regret. The book revolves around the question of what to do when you suspect you might have wasted a good portion of your life. Yes, it's all about the good old-fashioned mid-life crisis, only here, the characters don't have any particular attachments that will prevent them from repositioning themselves. If this doesn't sound promising, don't worry, it's engaging, funny, and refuses to submit to expectations. As in all his books, Hornby is honest enough to make his characters face the consequences of their poor decisions, while remaining a compassionate enough writer to make them real, multidimensional people.

Another of the main themes is parenthood, and I wonder whether I would have connected to this book as much ten years ago, before I had children of my own. Hornby --himself a father of three -- seems to be suggesting that while conventional redemption is not simple to come by, a more complex kind may be achieved through parenthood. It'll be interesting to see if there's a generation gap in reactions to the book. All that said, there's still plenty of pop culture geekery to revel in. For example, one minor subplot involves Annie stumbling into a Northern Soul night at a local club, allowing Hornby to write about that odd little British subculture (see books like Nightshift, Northern Soul, and Too Darn Soulful). And as I mentioned before, it's quite funny -- full of sharp wit and laugh-out-loud lines which help to even out the tone. A good, quick read for people of a certain age.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Sep 2010, 10:48:58 BST
Steve Roche says:
They are in their thirties and they are 'middle-aged'??

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Dec 2010, 09:34:58 GMT
Deb says:
I'd consider 30's middled-aged if only the start of it. I can't remember the start tbh. I'm sure Hornby's at the later end though.
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A. Ross
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 888