funny story: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Here’s Nick Hornby again, writing about a gorgeous, buxom blonde who flees a beauty pageant in Blackpool without accepting the crown she’s won. She is also very, very clever. All she wants is to be the second coming on TV of her idol, Lucille Ball, and make people laugh. (Note to young readers: Ball starred in “I Love Lucy,” a long-running sitcom that was first broadcast somewhere in the dim recesses of history. Long before your time.)

Her name is Barbara Parker, but, rechristened by a theatrical agent, she quickly becomes known to one and all in England as Sophie Straw. Her remarkable beauty attracts men’s attention, but her quick wit and abundant talent win the day as she stumbles into the starring role in a BBC sitcom named “Barbara (and Jim)” shortly after moving to London following the pageant. The upshot, in Funny Girl, is, in fact, a very funny story. However, the book is not merely a play for laughs.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby @@@@ (4 out of 5)

Hornby doggedly follows Sophie year by year through her television career in the sixties and early seventies, then wraps up the tale forty years later as she and the men who fashioned her character have gathered for a reunion, all grown old. Along the way, Hornby paints vivid portraits of the book’s supporting cast and their tangled and overlapping love lives: her two writers, the producer-director, and her co-star. The result is a revealing dive into the sexual mores of the English in the Age of Aquarius — and it’s not a pretty picture. The story ends on a bittersweet note.

Nick Hornby is a prolific contemporary British writer: seven novels, four screenplays, six short story collections, and eight nonfiction books, all published within the last twenty years. Four of his novels have been adapted for the screen.

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