About a girl, vividly drawn

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Craven

NICK Hornby is one of those writ­ers who has touched your life whether you know it or not. Think of About a Boy, the be­liev­able heart-warmer filmed with Hugh Grant and Ni­cholas Hoult (in his pre-teen days). Or the film that launched Carey Mul­li­gan, An Ed­u­ca­tion, whose screen­play Hornby dreamed up on the ba­sis of one part of Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Lynn Bar­ber’s mem­oir.

As a nov­el­ist he has the same dab hand, the same so­phis­ti­cated grip on the popular pulse.

His new novel is Funny Girl, and while it’s a pity he pinches the ti­tle of the old Bar­bra Streisand mu­si­cal, the book works so the piracy is for­giv­able. For most of its length this wry, re­al­is­tic comic novel about Sophie Straw, a girl from north­ern Eng­land who be­comes a sit­com star in 1960s London, works like a dream.

The hero­ine is damned if she’s go­ing to be con­tent to be Miss Black­pool, so she tosses her blonde head and her hefty bo­som and dashes for the great city of London, in par­tic­u­lar, the BBC light en­ter­tain­ment depart­ment. What she wants to be is a Lu­cille Ball. With lit­tle more than supreme drive and a tal­ent for comic tim­ing she lands a show called Bar­bara (and Jim), which presents the some­what I Love Lucy spec­ta­cle of a ditzy north­ern lass who’s hitched to a posher Oxbridge hus­band, a kind Funny Girl By Nick Hornby Vik­ing, 352pp, $29.99 of lower-case lead­ing man type who is bet­ter bred — the ac­tor as well as the character — but a lot slower on his feet than she is.

The script is writ­ten by a duo: one tough, gay and de­ter­mined, the other bi­sex­ual but who nev­er­the­less latches on to a good woman. Oh, and there’s a nice, re­fined, not very tough pro­ducer who be­lieves in his team and par­tic­u­larly in our hero­ine.

Hornby makes a mar­vel­lous job of bring­ing alive the far-off black-and-white world of whole­some, TV rib-tick­ling. He adorns this book with pho­tos from the dark well of the past: ev­ery­one from 50s English glam­our model Sab­rina (fa­mous for her looks and her breasts and who is the same type as Sophie) to Harold Wilson (such a sil­very, hand­some teddy bear of a Labour prime min­is­ter).

He makes a good fist of writ­ing 60s di­a­logue that largely avoids anachro­nism and he per­forms the more-dif­fi­cult-than-it-looks feat of cre­at­ing a cast of lik­able, in­tel­li­gent cen­tral char­ac­ters, in­tent on work they adore or feel

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