Like the main characters of "Fever Pitch" and "High Fidelity" before her, Barbara (who later takes the stage name Sophie Straw), the protagonist of Nick Hornby's new novel "Funny Girl," is obsessed. For her though, the would-be beauty queen can recite the gags and jokes of Lucille Ball in the same manner that Rob from "High Fidelity" can recite vinyl-exclusive b-sides.
Hornby's latest work, though, is about more than single-mindedness. Set in 1960s London, mostly behind the scenes of a TV show, it's also about changing cultural mores, the camaraderie of the creative class and the joy of finding a career in what one loves.
amNewYork caught up with Hornby in advance of his appearance Wednesday at B&N Union Square.
What fascinates you about people's obsessions?
It tends to separate them. If you care a lot, or even maybe too much, about something, you find that it might create division between you and the rest of the world. Sophie can't be like everybody else because of how passionately she feels about her interests.
The two writer characters in the book, Bill and Tony, seem perpetually locked in a struggle between art and commerce. To which of the two do you relate more strongly?
I feel permanently in the middle of the argument between them. They express two sides of my nature. I don't see it as a choice, really -- what I've done has always been an expression of who I am. I haven't thought about art versus commerce particularly. I've just written stuff that has had enough of a popular appeal to keep me in work. I think my tastes are toward the accessible. I've always thought that there's no reason that things can't be really smart, be really funny and really involving to a broad cross-section of society.
There's a tremendous sense of camaraderie within the TV show's creative team. Is that something you envy a bit as a novelist? Or have you found it somewhere?
Yes to both. The movie I wrote a few years ago, "An Education," that was a very rewarding creative partnership between several people. And I've just had a couple of other good experiences on movies. ... Partly, I wanted to write about the joy of collaboration that I've had. But there's something that's also built into film and TV: There's incredible frustration, because you need permission from so many different people to get anything made. The beauty of writing a novel is you don't need permission from anybody. Even if the book doesn't get published: It's a novel. ... Whereas a screenplay is pointless without directors and actors and money.