I really really liked this novel.
It is set in the 60s, and opens as Barbara Parker realises she can't face a whole year being Miss Blackpool, and hands back the title in order to pursue her dream of showbusiness, and comedy in particular.
She idolises Lucille Ball, but doesn't find it easy, at first, to find like minded comedy fans in London, sharing a grim flat and working in a department store. She starts to buy The Stage and force herself to go to auditions: through good luck, she stumbles into a starring role in a half hour "Comedy Playhouse" written by two friends, Bill and Tony, and produced by Dennis. These four, along with the co-star Clive, become the central characters of the novel as the sitcom, Barbara (and Jim), becomes a mainstream BBC hit in the era of 3 channel television.
Barbara adopts the stage name of Sophie Straw (although her character is Barbara). She is a prodigious comic talent, and has TV-friendly good looks, which make her a 60s celebrity, but she doesn't find celebrity entirely easy. The novel focuses on the lives of the main characters, with more of a focus on Sophie / Barbara and on Tony, as the series goes through the stages of being a huge hit then the inevitable decline. The characters have to deal with their feelings about working firmly in the mainstream - much as it pays the rent very effectively.
I don't know much about TV behind the scenes, then or now, so the whole thing has the ring of truth for me, and I really enjoyed reading about the whole process and the underlying tensions. It drew on many real people and events of the time, using the context of other successful shows such as Till Death Us Do Part and real people like Harold Wilson and Marcia Williams.
I liked the fact that it was a light read but it wasn't genre fiction and it didn't draw on cliches or stereotypes as light reading often does. It dealt well with the restrictions felt by women at the time, and also by gay men, without making the characters into crusaders: they were as much shaped by their environment as everyone else. It's clear that Hornby has done his research, and also that he can (and does) write for TV, because the excerpts of the actual sitcom had great dialogue.
I just think it's a shame that I can't now go and watch Barbara (and Jim) on Youtube!
Read this book earlier this week. There was enough to keep me interested to the end, but it's not a book I'd rush to recommend. I've been trying to read the book while suffering with a migraine (for much of this week), which I guess has coloured my response to it.
There were lots of amusing bits in the story and some interesting insights into the nature and power of art, but the main problem for me was I just didn't care about any of the characters, who were either nerdy, slightly dozy or self-centred.
David Mitchell was on the radio earlier this week who said the secret to writing a great novel was to create characters who the reader cares enough about to find out what happens to them and although I did read this book to the end, (and I wouldn't have bothered if it was that bad), it didn't quite hit the mark for me.
This is an enjoyable book for the older teenager telling the story of one young man’s rapid transition from boyhood to manhood when his girlfriend falls pregnant. Told from the point of view of the main character Sam, we follow his emotional journey as he comes to terms with a future that probably won’t be filled (as he’d always hoped) with his steady rise in the world of his main passion - skating (his hero is Tony Hawk) but will be filled instead with nappies, feeding bottles and the immense responsibility that fatherhood brings.
The book is funny, poignant and written in the Nick Hornby chatty way that make the characters feel real and believable. I particularly liked the moments where Sam reveals his innocent / naïve side when trying to act in a grown up manner.
Martin, a disgraced TV presenter climbs to the top of Topper's Tower on New Year's Eve to kill himself. However, he is not alone. 3 others have the same plan: Maureen, a single mum who cares for her profoundly disabled son and is tired of living a non-existence, JJ a failed musician who has been dumped by his band and his girlfriend, and Jess, a young, aggressive teen whose family problems leave her angry at the world and herself. All four become allies in a prolonged suicide pact, delaying their respective suicides till they exhaust what little of their lives remain.
I read this for my RLBG, definitely not my choice, and it hasn't improved my opinion of Hornby at all. It really is lit-lite. I can't quite make out if Hornby is striving for something more profound or if he just doesn't care too much. His writing style is very simple, very conversational-y, quite blokey, and he clarifies far too much. At first the clarifications of each narrator is mildly amusing but then the device is so over-used it becomes tedious at best and at worst a hurdle to the actual point of the novel.
The most interesting character was Martin - only because he was so utterly responsible for his downfall, and quite clearly knows it, that his journey seems the biggest one to embark on.
The story alternates between each character's first person narration of the same events told. Each alternation is only a couple of pages long. I can see why Hornby used this technique, as each has their story to be told, but it ironically prohibits the reader from getting to close to any of the characters - and I actually found myself skipping bits of Jess's story because I really didn't like her as a character at all. She was a caricature of a bratty teen - with no real depth or point at all. The length of each narrator viewpoint was short enough that I knew I wasn't going to miss much.
The only amusing point was Jess telling a reporter that they all saw an angel up on the tower who told them to come down. She likens him to Matt Damon. Now, I don't know if Hornby is deliberately referencing the film Dogma here, I suspect he might be as he seems to be 'up' on his pop culture, but Jess is so utterly clueless throughout the book, that I don't think she would connect Damon with his Dogma character - so why would we find it funny that she does? Is that the irony? That we know and she doesn't? In a first person narration? It doesn't quite work.
Hmmm - one for Hornby fans only I think.
Nick Hornby - About a boy - 1998
A funny yet thoughtful and touching novel. The way Will and Marcus get together and grow together, family life is seen from a totally different point of view. And the singles' life, as well. I liked this book, a lot. And, even though they changed the end, I also liked the movie.(thread first started 03.05.06)