Compact, wearing jeans and a gray t-shirt, Nick Hornby admits he knows a thing or two about a fan's obsession with an artist's work.
"When someone says they've read your book 15 times, you think, well, you should read something else," he says, discussing a theme of his newest novel, Juliet, Naked. "That's partly where the book came from. I started getting confused. But I realized that, in saying that, you're denying someone their emotional connection."
Hornby, 52, is sitting in a Manhattan hotel suite, ostensibly to discuss An Education, the Lone Scherfig coming-of-age film that opened Oct. 9 in limited release, for which he wrote the screenplay. But he's also got a new novel, one that touches on some of his favorite topics and some new ones: rock'n'roll, the problems of romantic love and the demands of family relationships, the push/pull between artist and fan, the role of the Internet in helping to promote the obsessive dissection of one artist's work.
Juliet, Naked focuses on a couple, Duncan and Annie, living in a dreary British seaside town. Approaching middle age, Duncan spends all his spare time focused on an obscure rocker from the late 1970s, Tucker Crowe, who disappeared in the early 1980s. When a collection of solo demo recordings of the songs from Crowe's seminal album, Juliet, is released - called Juliet, Naked - Duncan posts a gushing review on the Crowe website. But Annie, by this time fed up with Duncan, posts a review of her own, saying the opposite - and winds up in an email correspondence with Tucker Crowe himself.
One of the book's running jokes is that, while Duncan and his fellow "Croweologists" endlessly discuss and analyze every wild rumor about Crowe's activity, they haven't a clue what his life is really like. And they're obsessed with a paparazzi photo of a wild-haired man - obviously angry at having his photo taken - that they believe is Crowe, when it's not.
"Partly I was thinking of J.D. Salinger, the greatest recluse of all," Hornby says. "I think of that famous photo of Salinger, which was kind of frightening because of how disturbed he was. And then it came to me: What if that wasn't really him?"
The book was also inspired by a 2007 Vanity Fair piece, in which writer David Kamp tracked down musician Sly Stone, long MIA from the rock'n'roll wars. Having tried for years to arrange an interview with the reclusive Stone, Kamp actually met up with him in Vallejo, Ca., for a long talk.
"He' d been a fan for a number of years and that was the narrative thrill of the piece," Hornby recalls. "Sly didn't show and didn't show and suddenly there he was. Someone appears in front of you who has disappeared - that's definitely an element of this book."
Does Hornby - who has written extensively about his own rock'n'roll passions in novels like High Fidelity and the nonfiction Songbook - have a Tucker Crowe of his own, someone whose work he's pored over to glean every last microbe of meaning and goodness?
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