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A Really Quite Lovely and Complimentary Review of Nick Hornby's New Book, Funny Girl
Nick Hornby's Funny Girl
I Liked It, I Really Liked It
I want to begin by saying that I really enjoyed this book. It's funny—apropos given the title, although "funny" is a term that can have many different connotations, so I think it important to clarify that I'm talking about "funny" in the humorous sense—the characters achieve their desired purpose of likability (or dis-likability), and—most importantly for a novel of this scope—Funny Girl never collapses under the weight of its own ambition. And the book is just that: Ambitious.
While reading Funny Girl, I was consistently reminded of the Paul Thomas Anderson film, Magnolia. Not because the two are similar in subject matter (although there is the television angle), but because both take on the idea of an ensemble story in which each character is important not only in their own narrative, but in each other's narratives as well. One character's success or failure is entirely dependent on the actions of the ensemble. Every moment has an effect that ripples through the lives of all around. You know, someone drops a feather off of the Empire State Building, and a child sneezes in Calcutta—that sort of thing.
Sophie, the titular Funny Girl, ends up being no more important than Bill, Tony, Clive, or Dennis—well, maybe Clive. Clive is perhaps the weakest character of the story in his predictability; he is vain, misogynistic, crippled by self-doubt and self-importance simultaneously, and wrong about nearly everything (I'm sure he is an intentional symbol of everything wrong with world mindset of the 60's). As a result, Clive is a rather boring character—the sort of person whom nobody misses, perhaps are actually relieved, when they leave the room.
Beyond the failed Clive, the characters are endearingly flawed—ever-hopeful, yet hopelessly floundering. Their relationships have a genuine warmth, and the issues tackled by setting the book in Sixties London seem neither forced, nor stale. Hornby shows us a brave new London—one trying so desperately to emerge from a world of glass ceilings, racial inequality, sexual repression, and stifling bigotry. It is a world not so far removed from today as one might suppose.
And Another Thing...
Anyway, I think Nick Hornby pulls it off. I like this book. I liked his last one, too—Juliet, Naked. I think he's hitting a stride, and has honed his craft. Hornby's writing is now on a level that is enviably effortless. Will he ever write another High Fidelity? Probably not, but that's okay, he already wrote one.
I am beginning to find that reading a new Nick Hornby book is like having a chat with a really good friend whom you haven't seen for a very long time. Your lives are totally different now, and a lot of things have happened that mean you don't get on quite as famously as you used to, but there's a certain level of comfort there—enough to remind you why you liked them in the first place. Which probably means that I should re-read How to Be Good and A Long Way Down, because I judged them very harshly against his earlier work.
All this is to say that if you've ever liked Nick Hornby, you should read Funny Girl, because you'll enjoy it, and if you're waiting for him to write another book like something else he wrote a long time ago, stop, because it's not going to happen.
© 2015 Jared Duran