Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
Hornby novels for me are like pizza: when they’re good they’re great and when they’re not they’re still enjoyable and immensely readable. Luckily, in addition to being readable Funny Girl is really good. It starts off in 1960s, in the North West England town of Blackpool, where our heroine, Barbara, wins a beauty contest. She doesn’t remain crowned for long, however, as her life ambitions are rather much higher, and she relocates to London where she pursues a career in television. Barbara looks like a blond pin-up goddess, but what she really wants to do is make people laugh and be Britain’s answer to her hero, Lucille Ball. With talent and luck on her side, she changes her name to Sophie and lands the lead role in a domestic sitcom, which she comes to dominate so completely that the show adopts the name Barbara (and Jim). Needless to say, the sitcom is a huge hit. Even though Barbara/Sophie is set up to be the heroine of the book, it devotes almost as much attention to the team behind the show, particularly the writing duo of Bill and Tony, and the different ways they deal with the success of their sitcom and their own sexuality (the novel takes place before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK). How long can Barbara (and Jim) stay on top, before the inevitable decline sets in?