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Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
One of the few, albeit minor, drawbacks of this job is that while we all get to spend a lot of time discovering books we love, we don't always have the luxury of time to pause between books and see which ones are going to linger in our minds, which ones are going to become longterm residents on our personal Best Of Lists. I, for example, loved Nick Hornby's Funny Girl when I read it last month "“ it was on our list for February "“ but I didn't anticipate that it would be the book I'd be talking about weeks later.
I've always been a Hornby fan, particularly of the older books, of which Funny Girl reminds me. More about culture and its purveyors than about love per se (though there's plenty of pithy, witty wisdom about love here, too), Funny Girl seems at once both larger and smaller than Hornby's other works. I guess what I mean by that is that it's about a very specific time and place--while we hadn't coined the term yet, it was the London "media world" in the 1960s. (Then, "media" meant TV, books and "“ wait for it! "“ theater) "“ and yet, it's also emblematic of a wider world. (In this way, Funny Girl reminds me of Steve Martin's wonderful Shop Girl, which was so specifically set in a more or less contemporary Los Angeles, but was entirely, and brilliantly, time-out-of-time.)
Who, for example, can't relate to the central theme which here centers on show business but is applicable to just about everyone: what it's like to have dreams, and to realize that sometimes your outsides just don't match your insides. In Hornby's world, that disconnect is sometimes obvious--his heroine, Barbara/Sophie, looks like a strumpet but has the soul of a comedienne--and sometimes more hidden: Tony and Bill are the toast of the town for writing about an "ordinary" marriage when neither of them has anything close. Even more minor characters, like Clive and Dennis, are hiding some things.
Still, I suppose Funny Girl isn't for everyone. One friend told me recently that she wasn't crazy about British comedies, and it is definitely that (though as I said, it's also bigger than that.) And it is showbizzy and old fashioned, in a sense, so if you don't have much interest in the way it used to be in the innocent pre-social media world, you might view it as a historical. But there's something so essentially true and generous in Hornby's portrayal of popular culture that I can't help thinking "“ in these weeks when one cultural icon is closing up shop (Jon Stewart) and another (SNL) is celebrating 40 years in business "“ he's a genius at being both nostalgic and topical all at once. And that's a combination that's definitely worth talking about.