The author of “High Fidelity” has a new novel, and it’s a sweet sojourn to 1960s London, where a cast of writers and actors embark on a groundbreaking television show that changes their lives.
Nick Hornby’s tale follows Barbara Parker, who wants to be the next Lucille Ball.
“Her school friends and her colleagues in the cosmetics department at R.H.O. Hills didn’t seem to want to claw, dig, wriggle, and kick their way out of the town like she did, and sometimes she ached to be the same as them,” Hornby writes.
When she goes to an audition and is finally in the same room with others who also study “I Love Lucy” episodes, Barbara (stage name Sophie) bursts into tears and her relief at finding her “people” is palpable.
The chemistry between her and the other characters is real and deep. Hornby has a knack for crackling dialogue and well-defined characters.
There’s Clive, the gorgeous but insecure actor; Dennis, the producer who’s more decent than any person should be. There’s the writing duo, both gay – Bill, the unabashed cynic, and Tony, whose complex relationship with his wife is captured in a difficult but kind conversation on their first anniversary. “ ‘I don’t know what I am.’ June looked at him. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes. I thought I did. And then I met you, and now I don’t.’ ”
Their comedy series is a hit – it pushes the characters to do what they weren’t sure they could do, and their invigorating high point comes with a hint of sadness that it won’t always be this way.
The final section of the book – after the series ends – misses the easy fluidity of the earlier sections. Nevertheless, the ending manages to be mostly satisfying, and the reader feels it was a journey worth taking.
Riverhead, 464 pages