Back in the 1970s I learned there were two kinds of English humor: the acceptable norm of the upperclass public school wit and giggles epitomized by Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, or The Goon Squad, and the working-man’s laugh-out-loud inanity of Benny Hill and his ilk. Nick Hornby’s latest novel, Funny Girl, covers the period of British comedic entertainment where the posh university wits were being challenged by a more ecumenical approach to comedy.
The focus of Funny Girl is the BBC production Barbara (and Jim) which dared to represent a girl from the North as the heroine of the story (her husband was still very pukka and worked at Number 10). The novel seems to insist that at that time, British comedy was the purview of the well-educated—that the only good comedians were tempered on the playing fields at Eton—but what about Bottom? After all, Bottom was English … well, Athenian-English. Soon this fictional television comedy comes up against something entirely new for British television, Till Death Us Do Part (All In the Family in the USA version). And, of course, Lucille Ball is offered as an antidote to the high art of British comedy.
The writing team responsible for Barbara (and Jim) is made up of a gay gentleman and a married gent with some confusion about his sexuality. Since the timeframe of this novel is the 1960s, the gay concerns are not totally out of place but they might be emphasized with a nod towards the current importance of gay issues (remember, back in the 60s it was a crime to be gay in the UK and not much better in the USA).
The heroine is at times interesting and at other times boring. The situations are passably entertaining, especially if you can relate to the time period (to quote Obama: Yes, I can). There are a few instances where the real people (real in a fictional sense) are aware or actually discuss the difference between their (fictional) real lives and their fictional lives on the television program, but to consider Hornby’s novel a meta-novel on any level would be laughable. Funny Girl is about as engaging as an episode of I Love Lucy: it’s good, but what comes on the telly next?
I generally enjoy reading Nick Hornby’s novels but this one was less memorable than the earlier novels.
Wikipedia gives an extensive bibliography for Nick Hornby and considering that he is still writing, we can look forward to more:
(1995) High Fidelity
(1998) About a Boy
(2001) How to Be Good
(2005) A Long Way Down
(2009) Juliet, Naked
(2014) Funny Girl
(2009) An Education — directed by Lone Scherfig
(2000) Nipple Jesus
(2005) Not a Star
(2005) Small Country
(2005) Otherwise Pandemonium
(2012) Everyone’s Reading Bastard
(1992) Contemporary American Fiction
(1992) Fever Pitch
(2003) 31 Songs (Also published as Songbook in the US)
(2004) The Polysyllabic Spree
(2006) Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
(2008) Shakespeare Wrote for Money
(2012) More Baths Less Talking
(2013) Ten Years in the Tub
(1993) My Favourite Year: A Collection of Football Writing
(1996) The Picador Book of Sportswriting
(2000) Speaking with the Angel
(2005) Otherwise Pandemonium
(2013) “Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books”
1997 Fever Pitch — directed by David Evans; screenplay by Nick Hornby
2000 High Fidelity — directed by Stephen Frears
2002 About a Boy — directed by Chris and Paul Weitz
2005 Fever Pitch — directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly
2013 About a Boy — television series
2014 A Long Way Down — directed by Pascal Chaumeil; screenplay by Nick Hornby