How to build a girl by Caitlin Moran

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Hellllllo readers, hope you’re well on this slightly wintery Thursday December morning. It’s getting so goddamn close to Christmas and I am definitely not ready for it quite yet. I still have too many gifts to order, posts to write, and winter boots to buy (mine have holes in and I keep getting wet toes.) Enough of my quibbling onto the review and it’s a really interesting one.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes – and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and invents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes – but without the dying young bit.

By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.

This is the second book I’ve read from this brilliant, wholly funny author and  I really enjoyed this book which is supposedly not based on her life *hmmmm.* The book follows Johanna Morrigan brought up in a council estate in Wolverhampton who decidedly wants to be a music journalist. Leaving school and Wolverhampton behind she travels to London to find her dream job. During this time we see Johanna deciding to go through a life makeover changing her entire identity into the crazy, party loving, wild child Dolly Wilde. Dabbling in drugs, alcohol, sex, and bands (lots of bands) we watch as Johanna/Dolly struggles to find who she really is.

Did I enjoy this book? Overall it has to be an outstanding yes. It’s hands down, laugh out loud funny and reading this travelling on the train to London I did get a few funny looks. There are a number of quite explicit sex scenes and this mixed with her upbringing in Wolverhampton which looks at the desperation of her father to make it big in the music world, her potentially gay brother and the mischief of her younger siblings it’s a lot of fun.

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My only wobble is this is so much like How to be a Woman I had to stop a few times and make sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up the same book and was reading it again. Apparently Moran struggled writing this book and I think it may be due to how much of a similarity it was to her previous which I thought was really brilliant. This feels a little like a re-hash to get another book out, a little like Charles Bukowski. For me I still adored it; the writing is strong, written with humour, sarcasm and conviction. It draws you in and makes you feel part of the story and as with How to be a woman I was very much involved in the book despite the similarities.

Would I recommend this book – yes I would. I got a lot of excitement reading this and adored the writing. It would be nice to see Moran write about something a little different but this was still a wonderful book. Also as an addition I also had the chance to see Caitlin Moran live at the Stylist Live event and she was hilarious – she’s just such an inspiration to me and I had the chance to get my book signed by her personally which is so special – I was so nervous but Mumma B pushed me and I’m pretty glad I did. (note -I reminded T I had met and her hugged maybe 89 times the first time I saw him after.) A really good read, maybe not as original as hoped but still a great gem of a read.

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Leave a comment

  1. December 3, 2015 / 6:31 pm

    I’ve read this one, and I found it cool to know Wolverhampton, as I live near there – but I have to say, I wasn’t fan of the sex scenes. Wayyyy too explicit for me and frankly unnecessary. But otherwise, good writing. I mean there must be a reason I haven’t give the book away yet haha

    • December 5, 2015 / 8:43 pm

      They were a little odd actually – some scenes like her in the bath were hysterical though in comparison! Hahah I’m the same and now mines signed no-ones getting it 😉

      • December 5, 2015 / 9:10 pm

        I know, right? Ah, I remember that one!

  2. December 6, 2015 / 9:33 pm

    I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like it but I agree it was too much like How to be a Woman. A very funny book though, and I think I would have loved to have read this as a teenager!

    • December 7, 2015 / 12:10 pm

      I know, and it was such a shame because the first book was so good. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so similar and looking at other reviews seems I wasn’t the only one :I

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