Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, review by Holly Nickel
The author of High Fidelity and About a Boy is no stranger to both popular and critical success. Funny Girl, set in the world of 1960s British sitcoms, shares little more than a title with Barbra Streisand's 1968 movie about comedian Fanny Brice. But you can add Hornby's funny girl, Barbara Parker, a "21-year-old blonde bombshell" and Lucille Ball devotee who ditches her anointment as Miss Blackpool for a shot at a London acting career, to his stable of easy-to-root-for protagonists. Her life goal, along with keeping her teeth past 50 (unlike the rest of her relatives), is to make people laugh on the "telly."
With looks and luck on her side, Barbara quickly becomes Sophie Straw — a name chosen for its association with rolls in the hay. She tumbles into a leading role in a new BBC television series about the foibles of an odd-couple romance that bridges social and geographical divides by pairing an Oxford grad from the south of England with a woman who left school at 15. In one of many twists that deliberately smudge the lines between real life and sitcom reality, her character's name on the show is Barbara — and she too hails from up north in Blackpool.
Funny Girl crackles with class frictions, sexual tensions and the desperate pressure to stay fresh as it follows Barbara (and Jim) through the vicissitudes of multiple seasons and ever-morphing social trends. It borrows freely from the lives of its creative team, including its lonely, straight-laced Cambridge University-educated director and producer, Dennis Maxwell-Bishop, its two clever working-class writers, and its two impossibly attractive but shallow stars. This causes all sorts of amusing confusion, while raising pointed questions about art imitating life, and vice versa.