Nick Hornby was another safe bet. Another author who could be trusted to help me out of the book-reading difficulties I had last year.
One of the appealing things about Funny Girl was its nostalgia; there were a lot of references to people and events from my childhood.
That element of nostalgia is also what appealed to me in the first Nick Horny book I read, Fever Pitch. That book brought back memories of attending football matches with my dad, standing on the terraces, mostly to see his favourite team, Derby County, but when the opportunity arose, to see my team, Stoke City.
And then there was the film adaptation of Fever Pitch starring Colin Firth. Scenes of him attending games and being physically carried along with the ebb and flow of surging spectators brought back experiences I’d forgotten of being part of similar football crowds.
With Funny Girl the nostalgia wasn’t quite so personally relevant. It brought back the flavour of an era (1960s England) rather than memories of my own experiences. The nostalgic familiarity was in the setting more than in the characters and their situations, possibly because I was much younger than the book’s characters when I lived through the 60s
I enjoyed Funny Girl, but perhaps not as much as previous Hornby books. For me the tone throughout remained too light. Even through potentially confrontational situations, there seemed to be little sense of real loss or grief, or any other strong emotional connection.
Earlier this week I mentioned to the readers of another blog that I was approaching the end of the book and said: “the thing that is standing out is the lack of any real difficulties in the character’s lives. Everything seems to fall into place easily for them and there’s been no real conflict. There’s still time I suppose, but if something like that happens in the remaining 50 pages I think it will be too much of a change of tone.”
An example of what I mean is the way the lead character Barbara chooses to move from Blackpool to London to chase her dream of emulating her heroine, Lucille Ball, by becoming a comic actress. In a very short time she is lucky enough to accidently cross paths with a theatre agent willing to support her until he finds her work. And very soon after finds herself in the right place at the right time with the right people, to become the star of a popular sitcom written specially around her.
And that’s the way it continues until the “remaining 50 pages” that I mentioned above. Around that point of the book the tone does change, but not harshly enough to grate with what came before. The lightness remains, but a degree of melancholy is added to the mix when we have the characters are brought into the present day, looking back at the successes or failures they’ve had throughout the years.
I felt that latter part of the book was more like the Hornby writing I’ve enjoyed in the past, where the ongoing humour is balanced with something a little darker that gives the story more emotional ambiguity. Until that final section, I felt the book lacked that depth.