Book review – Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I feel close to Nick Hornby. He was born 3 weeks before me, and his novels have traced a large chunk of my own adult life.

Fever Pitch, his first published book in 1992 , was an autobiographical mini-classic. Except that it was all about a young man’s passion for Arsenal Football Club. Hard to take for a lifelong Tottenham fan, but I could identify with the author’s sentiment, and the writing was fresh, funny and acutely observed.

High Fidelity, published in 1995, was Hornby’s first novel. And damned funny it was too. About a compulsive, list-making, neurotic record collector in north London, it was cleverly transplanted to Chicago for the film adaptation, and beautifully brought to life by John Cusack and an emerging Jack Black.

About A Boy, published in 1998, was very different from Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. This told of the unlikely relationship between a shy young lad, Marcus, and a slightly selfish 30-something man called Will, who didn’t have to work and who was struggling for a focus in life. The movie adaptation is known for finally giving Hugh Grant a role that wasn’t the same one as in all his other films.

Other novels followed: How to be Good (2001); A Long Way Down (2005); Slam (2007); Juliet, Naked (2009); and now Funny Girl (first published in 2014).

Mr. Hornby has chosen to write what feels like a very old fashioned novel, with real echoes of Kingsley Amis. Instead of Lucky JIm, Funny Girl is about Barbara Parker, a young girl crowned Miss Blackpool in 1964 but who rejects the tiara in favour of the bright lights of London. There, she changes her name to Sophie Straw and stumbles into the life-defining role as one half of enduringly popular TV sitcom series Barbara (and Jim). The brackets are important.

The story is funny, poignant and nostalgic. Of course it’s well written, as all Nick Hornby books are, but it relies largely on reported conversations between the show’s actors, writers and producers. And – sorry, Nick – it all just feels a little, erm, fluffy. Nothing wrong with that, but somehow the characters didn’t quite have the extra layers that you usually give them. I needed a bit more to peel away….

Perhaps I’m being overly critical because I’ve enjoyed your earlier work so much. And perhaps I’d like to see you embrace the present as much as you obviously do the past.

But maybe I’m just envious. Look at what you’ve achieved in your 58 years, compared to me.

Still, I’ve got 3 weeks to catch up….


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