Funny Girl Nick Hornby

ELLE (Canada) - - Radar -

as the fa­ther of so­called “lad lit,” Nick Hornby is fa­mous for il­lu­mi­nat­ing the oc­ca­sion­ally dark, of­ten hi­lar­i­ous cor­ners of the male psy­che in smash hits such as High Fidelity and About a Boy. But Hornby’s take on mod­ern mas­culin­ity—fil­tered through pop­cul­ture so­bri­quets—has never been the full story. The au­thor, 58, is also adept at giv­ing life to smart, com­plex fe­male char­ac­ters, both on the page and for the screen. Take How to Be Good, his 2001 award­win­ning novel that fea­tures a tough, funny fe­male doc­tor as its pro­tag­o­nist, or his screen­play for the Os­car-nom­i­nated film Wild, based on Ch­eryl Strayed’s mem­oir about hik­ing the Pa­cific Crest Trail. In his typ­i­cally un­der­stated way, Hornby down­plays his suc­cess at tack­ling the fe­male point of view: “It’s not any harder than writ­ing about any other fic­tional char­ac­ter who is not one­self,” he says with a clipped English ac­cent. “I just have fun with it.”

Hornby’s lat­est foray into play­ing with char­ac­ter is Funny Girl, his first novel in five years. The book takes place in mid-1960s Eng­land and chron­i­cles the rise of So­phie Straw, née Bar­bara Parker, from small-town bathing beauty to the star of a wildly suc­cess­ful BBC sit­com called Bar­bara (and Jim). With her mix of wit, fierce­ness and lov­abil­ity, So­phie is a de­light, at ease with both acer­bic com­edy writ­ers and the le­gions of Mid­dle Eng­lan­ders who love her show.

For in­spi­ra­tion, Hornby looked to the orig­i­nal funny girl: Lu­cille Ball, the iconic Amer­i­can star of I Love Lucy, a show that changed the face of tele­vi­sion for­ever. “I read a re­ally stim­u­lat­ing bi­og­ra­phy of Lu­cille Ball a few years ago, and I found my­self think­ing about how many Amer­i­can come­di­ennes have cited her as an in­flu­ence,” he ex­plains. “You have Lu­cille Ball to thank for shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude and Roseanne.” Ball’s rich le­gacy also in­cludes con­tem­po­rary stars such as Mindy Kal­ing, Amy Schumer and Kristen Wiig.

In writ­ing the book, Hornby re­al­ized there were no prom­i­nent TV come­di­ennes in Eng­land be­fore the 1980s. “I won­dered if it was be­cause we didn’t have a fig­ure equiv­a­lent to Lu­cille Ball over here,” he says. “With Funny Girl, I wanted to in­sert one into his­tory, as it were.” JAMES GRAINGER

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