By Nick Hornby
The first time I read How to be Good — the only one of Nick Hornby’s novels I never finished — I realized not everything the venerable author touched turned to gold. It was an epiphany that humanized the writer in my mind and provided the essential framework to avoid the pitfalls of artist over-appreciation that can plague admirers of pop culture such as myself. (Side note, commonly over-appreciated authors: Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Bukowski. Don’t get me wrong, I like all those writers, but you just can’t attempt to transform their collective works into some kind of religion. Hell, even Kurt Vonnegut wrote Galapagos — a novel most critics and fans would consider far below his proficiency.) With that in mind, I still always look forward to a new Hornby novel, because even at his worst, he’s still far better than most. While I found Funny Girl more engaging than How to be Good, it didn’t have the charisma or allure of some of his earlier works (A Long Way Down and High Fidelity for example). The story begins in the mid-1960s and chronicles the rise of Barbara Parker, a young woman from northern England who escapes the doldrums and anonymity of small town life for a chance at stardom in London. After working in a department store and living hand-to-mouth for a few months, she assumes the moniker Sophie Straw and auditions for a role in an ill-fated sitcom. Realizing her potential, the writers of the show rescript it in order to utilize her proficiency and endowment. Upon its first airing, the program is a hit, propelling her to fame and fortune. The rest of the novel expounds the intricacies of show business, with a heavy emphasis on the interpersonal relationships between writers and actors and the shifting moral fabric of the decade. This may sound uninteresting, and it is to an extent, but it’s also Nick Hornby, a man who can usually transform mundane topics into page-turning satisfaction (though he admittedly failed to do that in the aforementioned book I never finished). While the prose is inspiring enough to keep the pages turning until the book’s conclusion, Funny Girl wasn’t among his best by a long shot — but just because it isn’t life-changing, doesn’t mean it isn’t a decent way to spend the novel-reading time you have scheduled for the next couple of weeks.