This novel, set in the 1960s, tells the story of Barbara, a girl whose only dream growing up was to go on television and make people laugh. When she wins a local beauty pageant and realizes that she’s about to become stuck in a small-town rut forever, she moves to London to pursue her goal. Her good looks attract the attention of an agent, but all he wants is for her to stand there and look pretty in various insipid commercials. Eventually, however, by sheer luck she teams up with a group of comedy writers who are trying to develop a new show for the BBC. There are Tony Holmes and Bill Gardiner, who have been writing partners for years; there’s Dennis Maxwell Bishop, the meek producer who’s trapped in an unhappy marriage; and there’s Clive Richardson, the handsome, arrogant actor who will be playing the male lead in the show. Against all odds, Barbara — now using her stage name of Sophie Straw — lands the part, and the show becomes an unexpected hit. Throughout its run, Sophie and her colleagues must deal with love affairs, identity crises, divorces, and changing artistic visions; but in the end, they are inextricably linked by the shared bond of creating a show that changed all their lives.
I’m a big fan of Nick Hornby’s books, so I was excited to read this latest release. It’s a bit different from his earlier works — still very funny, but in a subtler way. My favorite parts of the book are when the four main characters are just sitting around, discussing the show and trying to break new stories. It’s a pleasure to watch them all interact and tease each other. It’s obvious that, regardless of the personal issues these characters might have with each other (or in their lives outside of work), they are all genuinely fond of each other. Because of this focus on the characters, there’s not a whole lot of plot in the book; it covers the show from beginning to end, then goes forward in time to explore what happens to Sophie and the other characters. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the time jump; it made the book drag on and minimized the various setbacks and triumphs that occurred during the show’s run. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book overall and would recommend it to people who like character-driven books, as well as people who are nostalgic for ’60s-era television.