Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

December 28, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (2014) French title: Funny Girl. Translated by Christine Barbaste

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby opens on a pageant contest in Blackpool, UK. We are in the early 60s and Barbara Parker becomes Miss Blackpool. She ended up in this competition after her aunt suggested it. As soon as Barbara realizes that being Miss Blackpool means a whole year of service as a ribbon cutter to the city of Blackpool, she steps out and refuses her title.

Barbara is a fan of I Love Lucy and she wants to be like Lucille Ball, to make people laugh. She leaves Blackpool to go to London and becomes Sophie Straw. Her agent helps her find auditions even if he thinks she has better chances as a model than as an actress.

One of her auditions takes her to the BBC where the director Dennis Maxwell-Bishop is looking for an actress for a new TV show. The screenwriters are the duo Tony Holmes and Bill Gardiner who were successful with a previous radio show. Clive Richardson will play the male character of this new venture, a sitcom about a couple and their domestic life. Tony and Bill struggle with the scenario, they cannot make the characters sound genuine.

Sophie arrives for the audition and boldly challenges them. She has charisma, a mix of innocence and ambition. She’s a natural comic. Her personality and suggestions are inspiring to Bill and Tony. The four of them make a great team, their working together boosts their creativity.

The adventure of the TV series Barbara (and Jim) can start.

Funny Girl is centered around Sophie, Dennis, Tony and Bill’s lives. Clive is present too, but not as much as the others.

Tony and Bill are both homosexual. They met after they were caught by the police as it was still a criminal offense at the time.  Tony chooses security, marries June and lives a middle-class life. Bill remains true to himself and is involved with the London gay scene.

Dennis is married to Edith, who works for a publisher. She’s at ease with the literary world and her friends have no respect for Dennis’s job. It creates frictions in their couple.

Barbara/Sophie loves her job and her life. Hornby created a lively character, class-conscious and hardworking. Success doesn’t change her. Sure, she can afford a different lifestyle but she never becomes snotty. She’s a very loveable character who learns to navigate in her new environment.

We follow the seasons of Barbara (and Jim) and they give rhythm to the characters’ lives. Nick Hornby ambitions to bring back London in the 60s, the change in the British society and how it is reflected in TV shows. It’s a quick and entertaining read about a turning point in the country: more personal freedom, first commercial TV, end of criminalization of homosexuality, music…It’s also the clash between “classic culture” and “pop culture”, with intellectual looking down on TV producers and even more on comedy shows. Sophie, Dennis, Tony and Bill belong to the pioneers of television series, a genre that is currently thriving.

I imagine that if you’re British and old enough to have known that time, it must be a wonderful trip down memory lane. For me, it was a fun read but nothing more.

  1. December 28, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    I’m not British, though I’m not sure you could say the same about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I’ve listened to an awful lot of British (pre-Monty Python) comedy. I’m not sure it’s an era I wish to remember.


    • December 30, 2019 at 6:33 pm

      I have no idea of what they actually broadcast at the time. I know that these shows were also popular in France (we had French ones, of course) but I have no idea what they were. I should ask my parents.


  2. December 28, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Just checked and I own this. Sounds like a fun read as I like Hornby. Since I’m working on my TBR list, I’ll get to this sooner or later.


    • December 30, 2019 at 6:31 pm

      I’m curious to read your post about this one. You have a better chance than me to see all the references in the book.


      • December 30, 2019 at 6:41 pm

        I’ll get to ity as I’m making great progress on the TBR list. 88 down this year.


        • December 30, 2019 at 6:45 pm

          Wow, I’m impressed. Only 33 on my side. And I bought more than 33 books, so the global TBR is still the same…
          It’s a never ending story. I’ll try to be more reasonable in 2020.


  3. Vishy
    December 30, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Looks like an interesting book, Emma! I love Nick Hornby but haven’t read a novel by him recently. I read a memoir-type book by him last year. Glad you liked this one. I am looking forward to your year end favourite books list 🙂


    • December 30, 2019 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks Vishy!
      The list is live!


      • Vishy
        December 31, 2019 at 5:58 pm

        Wonderful! Will visit your blog now!

        Liked by 1 person

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