"Funny Girl" (Riverhead Books), by Nick Hornby
The author of "High Fidelity" has a new novel out, and it's a sweet sojourn to 1960s London, where a cast of writers and actors embark on a groundbreaking television show that changes the course of their lives.
"Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby follows Barbara Parker, who has the looks to be crowned Miss Blackpool, but who wants nothing more than to be the next Lucille Ball.
"She wished that she could be happy, of course she did; she wished she wasn't different," Hornby writes. "Her school friends and her colleagues in the cosmetics department at R.H.O. Hills didn't seem to want to claw, dig, wriggle, and kick their way out of the town like she did, and sometimes she ached to be the same as them."
When she goes to an audition and is finally in the same room with fellow comedy buffs who also assiduously study "I Love Lucy" episodes, Barbara — who now goes by her stage name Sophie — bursts into tears and her relief at finding her "people" is palpable.
The feeling is mutual: "They loved her. She delivered her lines with an ease and sense of timing that had been beyond the reach of every other actress they'd seen that week."
The chemistry between Sophie and the other characters is real and deep. Hornby, whose other credits include "About a Boy" and "Fever Pitch," has a knack for crackling dialogue and well-defined characters.
There's Clive, the gorgeous but insecure actor; Dennis, the BBC producer who's more decent than any person should be. There's the writing duo, both gay — Bill, the unabashed cynic, and Tony, who's married and whose beautifully complex relationship with his wife is captured in a difficult but kind conversation the couple has at a dinner celebrating their first anniversary. "'I don't know what I am.' June looked at him. 'Really?' 'Yes. I thought I did. And then I met you, and now I don't.'"
Their comedy series is a hit — it pushes the characters to do what they weren't sure they could do and their invigorating high point comes with a hint of sadness that it won't always be this way.
The final section of the book — after the series ends — is slow and misses the easy fluidity of the earlier sections. Whether this is by design — to mimic the letdown of passing your peak years — or simply the author losing steam, it's a shame.
Nevertheless, the ending manages to be mostly satisfying and the reader closes the book feeling like it was a journey worth taking.