The weather this winter has been so erratic, up and down, up and down, so it’s hard to know what to expect or how to dress from day to day. It’s another mild weekend, which I will be taking advantage of soon, when I hang the sheets outside to dry… there’s nothing like the scent of the outdoors to lull me into a good night’s sleep.
I wasn’t sure what to read last week after finishing The Affinities. I tried a couple of the library books I had piled on my coffee table, but none of them were grabbing me. I tried a book by Kate Morton that I’ve been eyeing on my bookshelf for some time, but that also didn’t grab me. I even tried a book that someone from work gave me, a huge historical novel by Philippa Gregory, and that almost grabbed me (I’ve set it aside to read later, when I have more time and can focus). What I ended up reading was a book I got as a review copy when I was still reviewing books for the local newspaper (I’ve still got a stack of those for future consideration). Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby, was a good read, but was surprisingly unfunny. Set in the mid-1960s, it opens with Barbara Parker winning the title of Miss Blackpool, then escaping to London to follow her dream of making people laugh on screen, like her heroine, Lucille Ball. She gets a job at the cosmetics counter of a department store, and a chance meeting with an agent leads to a new name and a new beginning. In just a few short months, Sophie Straw will become the new little darling of British BBC comedy. She shines as the lead female character of Barbara (and Jim), a sitcom about a mismatched couple and their misadventures. The cast of characters in the book include Tony and Bill, the writers, who have known each other since their time in the National Service, the producer, Oxford-educated Dennis, who is in a loveless marriage to posh, intellectual Edith, and Clive, the lead male character, who dreams of greater things and fancies himself a “ladies’ man”. Their adventures offscreen make up the bulk of the story, and the reader learns much about the joys and perils of working in television at that time in history. Hornby knows his stuff where this is concerned, as he wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film, An Education. It is a historical novel about the golden age of the BBC, and a look at the huge social changes that were taking place at that time in the popular culture of the 1960s. It is also a love story, and an exploration into the creativity and teamwork that go into producing a tv show. It is a novel of youth, and aging, and the inevitable change that everyone faces, no matter how famous or good-looking. And it is a defense of and homage to the value of “Light Entertainment”. I’ve read a few other books by this author: About a Boy and High Fidelity are my favourites, and they are very funny. This book takes a more earnest look at the lifestyle of people in the entertainment industry at a period when society was changing so drastically and so rapidly. It is not satirical or critical, but takes a more gentle, nostalgic approach, a bittersweet look at a bygone era (sorry for all the cliches!). It reminded me a bit of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar (up until the part where Plath’s main character tries to kill herself and undergoes ECT treatments): although Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel takes place a few years earlier than Hornby’s, both novels deal with the choices women had at that time. It was certainly an interesting read, and very informative, so I would definitely recommend this novel if you are interested in Britain’s pop culture in the 1960’s, or the way tv shows, plays or movies are written and produced, or if you are already a Hornby fan - just don’t expect Funny Girl to cause many laugh-out-loud moments.
I got a new kitty this weekend, so there’s not been much reading going on - hopefully I will have a chance to get into a good book this afternoon. Have a great day, and enjoy the mild weather!
Bye for now…