Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Funny Girl," by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is a beloved writer in the UK and in the USA. His novels “About a Boy” and “High Fidelity” have been particularly popular, and both were made into successful movies as well. I have enjoyed reading several of his novels, including the two I just named. His latest one, “Funny Girl” (Riverhead, 2014), tells the story of a teenaged girl from Blackpool in the 1960s who is desperate to get out of that city and to become an actress and comedian. Her heroine has been Lucille Ball, and she has watched the Lucy shows obsessively. She takes the leap and moves to London, living in a cheap flat with a roommate and working at a department store. By chance she meets an agent, auditions for a new TV show, and through her interactions with the writers and producer, which show her wit and talent, she lands the starring role in the show eventually called “Barbara (and Jim).” The novel tells of her interactions with the others (actors, producers, director, etc.) involved with the show, the consequences of the immediate popularity of the show, her adventures with sex and love, and eventually, her future in and out of show business. It is not a deep or complicated story, but the characters -- especially the main character, Barbara-now-named-Sophie -- are endearing, sometimes amusing and sometimes heartwarming. The novel touches on questions of what is important in life. It reveals aspects of life, politics, and culture in the 1960s and onward in London, when everything was changing (the Beatles! the musical “Hair”! gay sex being legalized! sexual freedom and openness!). A heady time. Overall it is a positive, life-affirming story. The reader -- at least this reader, and I suspect most readers, especially those predisposed toward Hornby’s writing -- closes the book feeling satisfied with the reading experience.

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