If you’ve read Nick Hornby–he wrote About a Boy and the iconic High Fidelity, among other novels–then you’ll recognize his voice right away: affable, funny, light but with a signature wistfulness. It’s back for the first time in five years in Funny Girl, telling the story of Barbara, who in 1964 leaves her hometown of Blackpool, England (where she was, briefly and reluctantly, Miss Blackpool), for London. She’s obsessed with becoming the next Lucille Ball. “It was,” she thinks, “a bit like being religious.” And surprisingly quickly, even to her, she does, as the star of a wildly popular sitcom called Barbara (and Jim). (The parentheses are a bone of contention with her co-star.) It sounds more like a happy ending than the beginning of a novel, but Hornby leads with it because he’s more interested in the long aftermath of success: the complicated compromises it entails, the private sacrifices it demands, the inevitable anticlimaxes that follow it. Funny Girl isn’t a profound book–Hornby isn’t geared for high drama–but it has a lot in common with Barbara (and Jim) at its best: “It was fast, funny, and real.”
This appears in the March 09, 2015 issue of TIME.