Book Talk: Funny Girl

9:00:00 PM

Reading Nick Hornby's Funny Girl feels a little like opening a time capsule to learn about British comedy from the 1960s. With more character study than plot, Hornby introduces a cast of funny, frustrating, and endearing characters trying to "make it" by making a BBC comedy series. Barbra, a determined beauty from Blackpool, worships at the altar of Lucille Ball, and despite her accent and the fact that she's a woman in the 60's, wants to be a comedienne. When she meets writers Bill and Tony and director Dennis, (who actually have solid storylines in their own right), she changes her name to Sophie Straw and launches her career.

Funny Girl was definitely deeper I expected, as it explores more than just the struggles of trying to break into the entertainment industry - it also addresses women's rights, homosexuality, the generational gap, and aging in the spotlight.

The characters seem intentionally designed in the image of old entertainment archetypes - Sophie is the charmingly naive small town girl who must learn to deal with the spotlight, but rather than feeling stale, Sophie won me over as quickly as she does the audience of the book's fictional comedy series - which I wished on more than one occasion, actually existed - but she's not the only endearing (and cliche) character. Show writers Bill and Tony are a bit goofy and bicker like an old married couple as they try to figure out how to break into the world of BBC comedy while also creating something fresh and fun for a new generation of television viewers. Dennis plays the part of the downtrodden director who is constantly wishing the writers and cast would behave like proper adults while simultaneously defending their work (and his job) to his bosses at the BBC. Oh, and he's also hopelessly in love with Sophie.

The book isn't as laugh-out-loud funny as you might expect, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the read. It took me a little while to get invested - the first several chapters seem unnecessary - but I soon found myself swept into the rhythm of how the story and characters unfold, and surprised by the depth of issues explored within it's pages. I think readers will be especially fond of the story if they have some prior knowledge about 60's Britain or the BBC, as many of the references were lost on me. Even so, I was able to enjoy the story and while it's not my favorite of the novels I've read this year, I think it's worth checking out.

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