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Funny Girl


Funny Girl

Barbara Parker has had it with Blackwood, the northern English town where she grew up. Living with her dad and working at the cosmetics counter of R.H.O. Hills, the highlight of her week is absorbing “I Love Lucy” on Sunday afternoons. She knows she’s pretty, but what she really wants to do is make people laugh. It’s the 1960s. Sexism is blatant, and Barbara has entered a beauty pageant mainly out of boredom, and partly to assuage her Auntie Marie, who hopes she’ll win and forget all about moving to London. Yet, when she wins and realizes that it means she has to stay around for another year, she makes the runner-up a very happy girl and leaves for London the following week.

Barbara quickly finds a job at another department store. “All you had to do, it seemed, was ask for an inferior version of the life you’d had before and London would give it to you.” Marjorie, her new roommate, tries to wise her up about London life and the advantages that Barbara doesn’t quite seem to understand she has. As Marjorie patiently tells her, “You’ve got the bosom, the waist, the hair, the legs, the eyes…. If I thought that murdering you with a meat cleaver, this minute, would get me half what you’ve got, I’d slice you up without a second’s thought and watch you bleed to death like a stuck pig.”

"As he did with ABOUT A BOY and HIGH FIDELITY, Nick Hornby once again has created a funny and lovable cast of characters inhabiting a complex, fully fleshed-out world."

Although she doesn’t want a man, Barbara comes to see that she might need one to escape a life of drying her stockings on the radiator. “What on earth had led her to believe that she could do something without one? Why did she always think she was different from everyone else?” After a hilarious first and last date with a gentleman friend, she literally bumps into another gentleman, Brian, in the lobby. When Barbara accuses him of trying to pick her up, he says, “It’s not sex. It’s something even dirtier. I want to make money out of you. I’m a theatrical agent.”

And the fairy tale begins --- a fairy tale slightly fractured by social realities and expectations, and a very entertaining one at that. Brian bestows a new name on Barbara, “Sophie Straw,” and Sophie never looks back. Insisting on going to theatrical calls before Brian turns her into a highly paid model, she goes on a casting call for a somewhat dim minister’s daughter. Her cleverness and disarming naiveté win the writers over. They’re so charmed that they rewrite the somewhat banal pilot episode to dramatize and exploit the class difference between a northern lass and her stuffy, conservative London beau. The ensuing television comedy becomes a wild success, pushing the boundaries of the BBC’s standards.

“Well. Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Are we allowed to say that?”
“We’re not saying it.”

Along the way, we get to know the writers Tony and Bill, the co-star Clive, and the producer Dennis, all of whom succumb to Sophie in different ways. The dialogue is snappy and clever, and the pace moves along, well, like a situation comedy, which creates an appealing meta quality. It’s as much about comedy, 1960s London and the show itself as it is about any one character, although Sophie carries the book as well as the TV program.

As he did with ABOUT A BOY and HIGH FIDELITY, Nick Hornby once again has created a funny and lovable cast of characters inhabiting a complex, fully fleshed-out world. I enjoyed it, although at times it began to seem like a clever sitcom that had gone on a bit too long. But it made me laugh, and it made me feel good. I wonder who will play Sophie in the movie.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on February 5, 2015

Funny Girl
by Nick Hornby

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1101983353
  • ISBN-13: 9781101983355