I’ve avoided Hornby’s novels, because I was afraid they would be too male: male friendship and bonding through favourite soccer teams, beer and whatever men do with their friends. I liked About A Boy as a movie, thank you Hugh Grant, but felt no desire whatsoever to read it as well. Funny Girl appeared to be the opportunity to read Hornby, being a novel about a woman. Let’s be clear on one thing though: Barbara aka Sophie might be the main character, she is not the one that shines, that’s the men she works with and loves. Hornby once more has written a novel for and about men.
Barbara starts a successful career as comic actor Sophie Straw with her own series ‘Barbara (and Jim)’. She has escaped from sixties Blackpool and has turned out to be the perfect actress for a series about an oxbridge man and a working class girl. Writers Tony and Bill depend on Sophie’s comic talent to make the series work, which she does because she is talented and beautiful, ‘a bomb shell’. In real life Sophie remains the Blackpool girl. Though she is living in London in the sixties she does not participate in it. Being found in a nightclub once in a while she escapes within the hour. She is best pleased with her husband, her kids and her work. Am I wrong not to accept this? Hornby wants us to believe that lively Barbara / Sophie who has escaped the clutches of prospective matrimonial life in Blackpool craves for it in London and does not want to befriend the likes of The Beatles, The Stones, etc. etc. etc. ? She just wants to sit at home? Writer Bill and co-actor Clive are the ones who go clubbing and who lead the promiscuous lives. Bill is also the one who – when this is legally allowed – comes out of the closet, something dear Sophie had not even suspected for a moment. Though there were definitely moments I enjoyed Funny Girl, I found that those moments had to do with the men in the book: describing the relationship between writers Tony and Bill, depicting the splendid way producer Brian took his revenge on his ex-wife’s lover. I was left wondering why Hornby did not chose to set his novel in the 21st century. He could have written an edgier novel in that case. I felt throughout the novel that I was reading a nostalgic story about the history of the BBC and comic series in the sixties whereas I look at the achievement of Barbara (and Jim) through 21st century eyes. The BBC has broadcasted series that were a lot more provocative since 1965, highbrow and popular are both accepted and where Brian could still go to jail for his life style the BBC is now proud of their Graham Norton and Stephen Fry. After pondering it for a few days I came to a startling conclusion: Hornby has set his novel in the sixties because he does not belong to the young men of 2014. Having written about men his own age, he was always one of them. He is no hipster sporting a crew cut and a full manly beard, he has become one of those older men looking back at those days when music was still good (think Pink Floyd and the likes) and life still had a lot to offer. I am afraid Hornby wrote a nostalgic novel because he was thinking back in nostalgia to those days he still was one of the guys.