Apparently I have only ever reviewed one of Nick Hornby’s books for this blog, and I said this about it:
If Nick Hornby were a woman no one would give him two seconds of their time, but I suppose that is not Nick Hornby’s fault. As much as I want to like him, his books leave me feeling vaguely unfulfilled, like below-average vegetarian sushi.
Ahahahahaha, that Past Jenny, what a bitch. But — yeah, that’s about how I would describe my feelings about Nick Hornby up until I started reading Funny Girl. I had previously read Juliet, Naked, A Long Way Down, and How to Be Good, and while they didn’t make me laugh or even smile very often, they did make me feel the kind of anxiety you get when you are at the office and you can’t remember if you turned the oven off before you left home.
My expectations for Funny Girl were, therefore, on the low side. The premise appealed: It’s about two writers, two actors, and a producer who create a madly popular sitcom in 1960s Britain, and how they work to keep it funny and relevant, and how it ultimately comes to an end, as all things must.
And then! To my utter surprise! And perhaps as a function of having lowered my expectations very, very low indeed! I loved reading Funny Girl. I laughed out loud at a couple of places, and I was nearly always beaming as I read. I wanted it to keep happening and happening, and I felt glum when my bus reached work and I had to put the book down. Once I had finished, I went back and read several scenes over again, just because I had loved them so much and wanted to be living in them a second time. Here’s a bit where they’re all standing around and coming up with the idea for the show:
“Barbara and Jim. So how did they end up together?
“He knocked her up,” said Clive.
“I think you’ll find he didn’t,” said Sophie firmly.
“I don’t think it would go down so well upstairs either,” said Dennis.
“Oh, here we go,” said Bill.
Bill and Tony loved Dennis, and not just because he loved them. He was clever, and he was enthusiastic, and he was endlessly encouraging. But he was a Corporation man to the tips of his brown suede boots, and his playfulness tended to disappear if he thought that the future of the BBC, or his own future within it, was under any threat, real or imagined.
“O.D. would go for it.”
O.D., or Other Dennis, as he was known only in their very small circle, was Dennis Main Wilson, another BBC comedy producer, much more experienced and successful than T.D.– This Dennis. When Tony and Bill were bored, or felt that they weren’t getting anywhere with an idea, they would drop the possibility of Other Dennis into the conversation, and spend a few minutes painting an idyllic word-picture of what their working life would be like with him.
“Say what you like about O.D., but he’ll always go in to bat for his writers,” said Bill, mock-wistfully.
Funny Girl is generous to its characters in a way that I didn’t see (maybe I missed it?) in Hornby’s other books. Though minor characters come and go throughout the book, the central five all enjoy being around each other, and so the reader enjoys being around them too. They change and grow, and some of them grow out of each other, but the shared affection stays.
It’s just a lovely, lovely book, and I’m really glad I gave Nick Hornby another chance. Doesn’t mean I’ll want to reconsider the ones I’ve read so far, but I’d be willing to give future projects of his a go.
Postscript: Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t care for the last section of the book, which jumped forward in time by a few decades. When I read the book again, I maybe won’t read that bit. I’ll cordon off the last fifty pages. That’s a thing I do sometimes.