‘Funny Girl’ sets itself in post War-60’s England, and opens at a Maplins style Blackpool and then moves to an emerging Austin Powers swinging London. Flower Power has not hit yet but The Beatles are packing for America, the Ed Sullivan Show, and Elvis will be returning to tour soon. But this book is not about music. It’s about Barbara. A knockout, smashing girl, with a large chest, long blonde hair and a full, peachy bottom, ready to be pinched. She’s just won a bathing beauty competition and has been told of the wonders of a full year’s programme as reigning queen – kissing babies, avoiding the gropes of the mayor and no doubt endless beauty parlour openings! Ahhhh! Trouble is, she wants not a bathing beauty. Barbara wants to be a Lucille Ball and models her self, a least internally on the maverick comedienne. She has a hard time believing herself, when she has the looks of Dian Dors and Marilyn Monroe. In fact she often gets mistaken for Sabrina, a stunning page 3 beauty who makes her crusts on her ample bosom and aerated mannerisms. Sabrina (aka Norma Sykes) actually existed in real life (Hornby includes a photo of her doing her best to distract our gaze from the product she’s trying to sell in the poster – a slide projector I think?). The book cracks along at the pace of a 60’s sitcom.
Hornby’s books always conjure up a sweet cadence of music and relationships – not the crazy way out variety, but the familiar and the natural. This time Barbara/Sophie is quite a calculated person, with a voice that defies her outward appearance. She’s the thinking man’s crumpet and the literally dreamboat too. But this is still that light-hearted touch that Hornby has, perfect summer reader, I’d venture.