After reading High Fidelity, I knew Nick Hornby would become one of my favorite contemporary authors. And as you can imagine, I was excited to see his book Funny Girl in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble. I just love a good deal!
Funny Girl follows a comedian along her journey of becoming an actress and starring in her first TV role during the 1960s in England. Barbara, who changes her name to Sophie once she breaks into the business, grows up in Blackpool but desperately desires to move to London and fulfill her dreams of becoming a comedic actress like Lucy Ball. The novel covers a large expanse of time, as it begins when Barbara/Sophie is a young woman in Blackpool, follows her to London and throughout her first TV series, and ends when Barbara/Sophie is much older— in her late 60s-early 70s—and is reminiscing on her career.
I really enjoy Nick Hornby’s writing and comedic timing. I think he’s great at painting characters in such a detailed manner—it’s hard to name a character that I dislike or need more information on. Every character is distinguished from one another. The humor in Funny Girl is subtle, very quick, and understated. I love that it’s not in your face.
You know how I mentioned that Barbara/Sophie looks up to Lucy Ball? Well there is a scene in the novel in which she gets to met Lucy. During this scene, there is a moment of truth that’s spoken to the reader, which I thought was interesting. The narrator dissects the dichotomy of being an older actress—that is, on one hand, actresses can remain “natural” and not get offered as many roles or, on the other hand, actresses can receive cosmetic enhancements/improvements and get offered the “washed up” parts.
As the book mostly takes place in the 1960s in England, the narration also explores the idea of the nuclear family, sexuality, and women in acting. Although it doesn’t get really specific, it does explore some of the characters’ thoughts and experiences with the issues.
I think one of my favorite quotes in the novel offered some insight on how writers feel when interacting with “ordinary” folk:
“Years later, Tony would discover that writers never felt they belonged anywhere. That was one of the reasons they became writers.”
To Read or Not to Read?
If you’re a fan of Nick Hornby, you won’t be disappointed with this novel.