Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl
by Nick Hornby
10 hours, 19 minutes
Read by Emma Fielding
Published February 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
This is what was on bn.com: 

Set in 1960's London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful and humorous, Nick Hornby's latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process.

This is what was on Goodreads: 

Make them laugh, and they're yours forever . . . 

Barbara Parker is Miss Blackpool of 1964, but she doesn't want to be a beauty queen. She wants to make people laugh. So she leaves her hometown behind, takes herself to London, and overnight she becomes the lead in a new BBC comedy, Sophie Straw: charming, gorgeous, destined to win the nation's hearts.

My Thoughts: 
I've loved the movies that have been adapted from Hornby's novels but it's been tough to go back to the source material. So I decided to pick up one of Hornby's books that hasn't been made into a movie yet so I could read his work without comparing it to the movie. As it turns out, the book has been made into a movie, which will be released in Great Britain next month. Sometime after that, I suppose, I'll be watching it here, making the reverse comparison. 

Barbara longs to become the next Lucille Ball but when she lands an agent in London, he doesn't take her seriously. He's looking to make her a sexy girl on calendars and such and, when she pushes for acting jobs, he only sends her out to auditions that she's unlikely to land. So when she shows up to audition for a television show, neither he nor she is expecting much. With that thought in her head, Barbara (now Sophie) decides she's got nothing to lose and gives the writers her honest opinion of their pilot. 

They are charmed and, along with the producer, push to create the kind of show that will launch her career (and theirs, of course). She charms the nation and the show's a big hit. But, as shows that become mega hits do, there's only one direction to go from there. During that time, we become in involved in Sophie's life as well as the lives of writers (Tony and Bill), producer Dennis, and co-star Clive. Eventually, we jump forward twenty-five years, when all of those involved have died or died out, left only with the faint glow of that former glory.

I couldn't quite put my finger onto where this book fell short for me. One thing I did know right away was that the title is misleading, for several reasons. It implies, that this is a book about Sophie; but there are great swathes where Sophie entirely disappears. In fact, she may have the least interesting of all the lives we read about in the book. And then there's the question as to whether or not she's actually funny. Hornby tells us she is. But we never really see it. Much of what causes the writers and producer to want her for the part is her northern England way of speaking, her brutal honesty, her naïveté. But that doesn't make her funny and we never really get to see her be funny. 

In fact, there's not a whole lot of funny in the book. There are moments and Hornby certainly takes his satirical stab at the times. But it's not what the title of the book would suggest. Could a different title have made a difference in how I felt about this book? Yes, actually. And then Hornby would have had to cut back on all of the talk about how funny Sophie is and left the focus on the ensemble cast of characters and cut back on the often jarring cuts between focus on one character and then another. Of course, my opinion matters not a whit; I'm not a published author, whose books have been made into movies. My opinion is just that - my opinion as one reader. One who just wants you to know that Funny Girl isn't all that funny. Or entirely about a girl. 

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