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.

How to Be a Woman: Caitlin Moran

TGIF is the only way I can truly describe my feelings at the end of this week. After being unreasonably ill at the beginning of the week, spending the next few days furiously packing to catch up with the days and evenings lost snuggled up in bed with a hot water bottle wailing over my bellies insistent pain and having a number of wobbles with my fellow lodgers over the bills, washing up, even toilet rolls I’m shattered. A surprise weekend for my dear friend Anna and a moving day set for Monday it’s fair to say I’m ready to leave this week behind. Today’s review comes  after reading a  Buzzfeed interview; the interview with Caitlin Moran was sarcastic and blunt in style and made me desperate to read some more from her. Spotting at the bottom of the article that she’d written two books I vowed to get my hands on copies. Last weekend trawling a quaint book market in London I stumbled upon ‘How to be a woman,’ a steal at £2.50. Other than buying a big mac on a hungover Saturday this may have been the best £2.50 I’ve ever spent and I’m going to let you know why.

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Upon opening the cover I was a little sceptical; buying the book purely on the tone of the article rather than finding out the contents of the book the headings, such as ‘I become furry,’ ‘I start bleeding,’ and ‘I encounter some sexism,’ threw me a little. Worry not, because upon finishing the first chapter I realised that as like I had upon finishing the article, I think if we met, Caitlin and I would become firm friends. She has the comedic, whimsical blunt and sharp tone that delivers a punch to the readers jaw in ever feminist fuelled gag/story/teaching she throws our way. Before you stop reading don’t panic at the F word, I know some of us pale at the mention but Moran puts it perfectly, the way my mother always taught me, ‘I’m neither pro-woman nor anti-men I’m just thumbs up for the six billion.’ I’ve had this argument with friends before over being a feminist but Moran finds a way to put it perfectly; in a nutshell, put your hands down your pants, do you have a vagina? If yes do you want to be in control of your vagina? If you answered yes to both, congratulations you’re a feminist. Now before we get all political as we often do around gender equality (rightly so) this is a self-confessed ‘part memoir, part rant’ and the lack of politics makes it all the more a good talking point and a book of basically bloody good common sense.

We start with Moran on her 13th birthday; weighing 13 stone, eating cheese lollipops (a hunk of cheese the size of your head on a fork eaten from said fork) and having stones thrown at her by boys on regular occasions. The book ultimately documents her story from that day to the current day. Taking the theme of personal politics we follow the author as she discovers masturbation, crazy dancing, wearing your own pants, getting to grips with wearing a bra and coming to terms with being the proud owner of a big hairy muff. So what’s the big deal? Why is it brilliant? It’s the way it’s written. It’s magnificent, both provocative and hysterical you could hear me giggling on the bus from Hanley to Newcastle unable to stop myself. She doesn’t throw in gags but they instead they are an integral part of the story woven continually throughout the narrative. Several parts stick in my mind; the stories of her family and their bond is beautifully but honestly described and her account of the birth of her first child is chillingly written and helps to perfectly describe the authors humility. However two sentences later she’s jesting that she will never get angry about Norwich Union changing its name to Aviva ever again. It’s a constant whirlwind that pulls the reader along, I couldn’t for love nor money put the goddamn thing down.

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The writing is full of swear words, angry shouty capitals and incredibly honest and often shocking confessions. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that this comes across as a grating and crass barking teenage writing style but it is handled with grace and hilarity which comes with the self-assured and utterly candid quality of writing that comes from this sublime author. However what spoke to me most is that this is a book of common sense; it makes feminism sagaciously simple. She speaks of feminism grounding to a hault and suggests us renaming ourselves as strident feminists and us and any male feminists getting up on chairs and screaming it from the rooftops. At one point she states

‘Feminism, as it stands, well stands. It has ground to a hault and no-one is tackling OK! magazine, £600 handbags, tiny pants, Brazilians, stupid hen nights or Katie Price. And they have to be tackled…rugby style, face down in the mud, with lots of shouting’

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Having grown up with five brothers and sisters Moran truly believes we’re all just ‘some of the guys,’ and feminism is simply the belief that women should be as free as men. Simple eh? It’s a cheerfully bright and honest concept that for someone that describes herself as feminist but has never been quite sure to say it, can honestly say I needed this book.

This is a brave, consistently clever, naughty, rude, blunt sarcastic book with wonderfully honest writing that I chowed down in huge hunks. I can honestly say everyone should get a copy of this book sit down and take a little read at a book that attempts and succeeds to answer the question; What do women want? Pretty much the same as everyone else.

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