About a girl, vividly drawn
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