Author: Nick Hornby
I never read the backs of books prior to reading them, but based on the title Funny Girl by Nick Hornby was not really what I was expecting. Beginning the book, as it followed a young woman in the 1960’s named Barbara who wants to follow in the footsteps of Lucille Ball, I was expecting a story that followed her as the protagonist as she dealt with the trials and tribulations of that pursuit. While there is some of that to be found here, Barbara strikes it big pretty early and then the perspectives shift to include her co-star Clive, two show writers Bill and Tony and director Dennis as well.
As Barbara leaves small town Blackpool, she comes to London where she gets a job in a department store before finding an agent to send her out on prospective modeling and acting jobs. The funniest scene in the entire book happens early on in this phase when Barbara goes out on a double date with a married man whose buddy brings along his wife in what was obviously a miscommunication between the two men. After Barbara’s tv show hits it big, Clive has to deal with being the (and Jim) of tv show “Barbara (and Jim),” Dennis has to come to terms with his wife sleeping with his professional enemy, and Tony and Bill must juggle their professional life with their secret private ones.
The result of the shifting perspectives is that the plot moves fairly briskly in this book but it is difficult to get invested in the plight of any one character. The love triangle of Barbara (Sophie), Clive and Dennis in particular did not feel fully fleshed out. I get that Dennis would fall for somebody like Sophie right away, but Sophie’s relationship with both Clive and Dennis sometimes felt like a male fantasy of what pining for a woman can result in.
That’s not to say that the book was not an enjoyable read, because as with most of Hornby’s writing the best part about it is the humor interspersed throughout. The setting of creating a comedy show, writing for it and developing it allowed for plenty of great scenes (particularly, having two closeted gay writers responsible for handling a long form story about a newly wed straight couple). The book also featured a flash forward Six Feet Under style ending that provided some great finality to the story and added some much needed pathos. This was middle of the road Hornby, certainly not as great as something like High Fidelity but a delight nonetheless.