Books: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I really liked Juliet, Naked, so it was unlikely any of Hornby's other books were going to touch my love for that one. But this one was near the mark. Maybe it's because I enjoy reading about "the biz."

I'll admit to having been a bit confused at first. See, I hadn't read the flap, so I didn't immediately realize the book was set in the 1960s. So for a while there—that first chapter or so before I looked at the flap—things seemed really strange. (An interesting lesson, since while writing Peter, my beta readers pointed out that they wouldn't have known it was set in the 60s if I hadn't told them. So I fixed that in the rewrites. But I guess all I really need is a book flap?)

Anyway, Funny Girl is about Barbara, who becomes Sophie when she becomes a television star. Barbara's big dream is to be a sitcom star like Lucille Ball. And thanks to her curvaceous body, her dreams come true. Now, I can't 100% love a book that's all about how being beautiful is the minimum requirement for wish fulfillment. Where does that leave the rest of us? But it's a cute book anyway.

Yes, Barbara is "discovered" by an agent, and then she changes her name to Sophie, and then she has a few flat auditions before hitting it off with a comedy writing team. And at this point the story branches out, and we see not only Sophie's life but the lives of those working with her, though it remains Sophie's story at heart. She's a likable enough character, a mixture of clever and naive, with sincerity to boot. But she's not the most interesting of any of them.

We see writers Tony and Bill: Tony in his awkward, asexual marriage; Bill in his rebellious anger at the system (it's the 60s and Bill is homosexual to boot). We see Dennis, the producer with the unraveling marriage as his snooty wife looks down on his work in comedy. And we see Sophie's co-star Clive, the poster boy for shallow actors everywhere, always worried about how the public perceives him.

It seems insane, of course, that Sophie lands a hit show on her first outing, but "the biz" is a strange place, and these things do happen. Funny Girl follows the show through three series (that's seasons in American), and the way the show affects all the interpersonal relationships of those involved. It is, all told, not a terribly complicated book. There's something very matter-of-fact about it, really. And it's a quick read.

We get a glimpse of what happens after the show ends, and we see a reunion, and . . . Yeah.

It's a sweet book that's mostly about the divisions between generations and the way those divisions are reflected in the media. Which sounds ridiculous given the plot I've just sketched, but believe me, that's the subtext. Do media follow trend or do media set trend? A little of both, I'd wager. Good media catch on early and ride the crest of the wave.

In any case, Hornby poses the discussion in an entertaining way.

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