The only other Hornby I’ve read is High Fidelity (the film adaptation was meh). And I loved the film adaptation of About A Boy, so I wasn’t sure where this novel would go. I hadn’t planned on reading it, but one of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, announced they were going to do an episode a few months ago so I put it on hold and timed it almost perfectly to listen! (I missed the exact episode by a little less than week.)
I think the podcast hit the nail on the head when they talked about the story being more focused on “the show [Barabara (and Jim)] rather than the funny girl of the title, Barbara/Sophie. But what Hornby didn’t do, was show us the show; he only ever referred to specific gags, situations or dialogue. Someone on PCHH said it should’ve been called “The Show” and I can’t agree more. It would be a better title and I would definitely have chosen to read it if that were the title too!
As great as Sophie was, Hornby didn’t write her as a deep or involving character. I was much more interested in Tony and Bill, and even Dennis or Clive, than I was with Sophie. It didn’t hurt that Bill and Tony were a gay man and a confused heteroflexible(?) man respectively, in a time period when it was illegal to be either! When I read the following I fell in love with Tony:
“Tony caught a glimpse of something. Was that what it was all about? Perhaps it was. The nuclear family always represented something to a man, especially a single man, especially a single man with an anarchic streak who found himself having to write about a nuclear family to earn a living. And Tony’s nuclear family meant a lot more to Bill than most nuclear families, for obvious reasons. Tony didn’t want June and his unborn child to be a sort of Vietnam, and he didn’t want to be on the wrong side. But he was starting to fear that it was too late and that the battle lines had been drawn up a long time ago.” (291)
There was just something so innocent and naïve about him and you can’t help but want to give him a cuddle and make sure he’s okay. And what was most powerful was his relationship and his discussion of his feelings for both men and women with his wife June. With this one couple, Hornby created an excellent example of how malleable and flexible sexuality is. One point in the future people will fall in love with people and not genders and laws banning marriage equality or homosexuals will no longer exist.
Apart from Hornby’s excellent characterization, I felt that the story was sort of ho-hum. It felt a bit like a modernization of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with more sex and more drama (mostly off stage). I did appreciate the last section as much as the first, in which the story has fast forwarded 40+ years and they’re looking back AND looking forward which was a nice conclusion.
Recommendation: If you love Hornby it’s probably worth your time. It is a very quick read, I read 300+ pages in about four hours and finished it the next day. I hope they adapt it to a film, as I think I’ve enjoyed the adaptations of his work better than the works themselves (so far at least).
Opening Line: “She didn’t want to be a beauty queen, but as luck would have it, she was about to become one.”
Closing Line: “She could et a laugh that nobody was expecting, and they’d be off running.” (Whited out.)