Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build a Girl is the latest offering from bestselling author Caitlin Moran.  Following on from her international feminist hit How to Be a Woman this is a fictional account of a young, overweight girl  from a council estate in Wolverhampton – Johanna Morrigan - who, with thanks to her local library, becomes a music journalist.   Every day Johanna walks the six miles from her council estate house to the town library to read the music magazines and to rent the latest tapes.  The novel takes its name from the idea that your parents can only teach you so much: eventually they will have taught you all that they know, and it is then up to you in to go and build on this with all of the adventures and experiences you will have.  And Johanna does just that.  She becomes a music journalist by day and a lady sex adventurer by night.  Determined to learn all there is to know about kissing, sex, and life in London she jumps at every opportunity, sometimes falling, sometimes flying but always learning and always looking for her next big break.

The thing I found most frustrating about the novel, however, was the author’s note at the beginning.  Noting the similarities between herself and Johanna, Moran goes on to say that despite the large family, growing up in Wolverhampton, and stint as a music journalist readers are to remember that the novel is fictitious, and the events detailed within it are imagined.  Yet with this thick line between the “real” and the “imagined” aspects of the novel and Moran’s own life comes the acceptance that this story is anything but original.  The world has already heard the story of the precocious teenage girl who would write thousands of words a day in a bid to save her family from poverty.  This coupled with the occasional insights from the narrator, that this was what it was like in the nineties, mean the novel is both telling us it isn’t anything at all like Moran’s own life yet seeming a lot like Moran is re-imagining her unique teenage years through Johanna.  The result is a confused message: why cash-in on what makes Caitlin Moran unique and then begin by telling us that this coming of age tale is anything but unique because it can also happen to this girl – Johanna – who just so happens to be from the same town as Moran and born into the same financial struggle with the exact same aspirations.

Overall, however, it was an enjoyable read.  Fans of Moran will enjoy the occasional impassioned speeches which are similar to her articles and How to be a Woman.  This is what Moran does best: through her own unique use of language, short and snappy sentences, she sums up the feeling of a generation.  Taking on the topics which other authors tend to shy away from: female masturbation (female sexuality in general really), cystitis, the welfare state and Thatcher. Moran weaves prose which could be directly lifted from her column or HTBAW between the narrative arc of Johanna’s journey of self-discovery.  If you’re able to overlook the fact that a large chunk of the plot is remarkably similar Moran’s own life story and just see this for a heart-warming coming of age tale of a young overweight girl in nineties Britain then it is an enjoyable read.  Funny, thoughtful, and genuinely thought-provoking whilst not being too heavy handed with her political message – it’s the perfect continuation from How to be a Woman.  The only downfall, as I said, is the author’s note at the beginning telling you it is anything but autobiographical.

How to Build a Girl is available in the Kindle store for £4.72

Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet!


LouM said...

I completely agree with this review! On one level I enjoyed the book very much, on another I was very distracted by the way it is 'How To Be a Woman' all over again, with slightly different names. The 'authors note' serves to underline, rather than undermine, this - if you've read HTBAW then you end up spotting the similarities as you read. Having said that, it is enjoyable and funny, and I would have loved to have read this book when I was 17!

Alice said...

I've got this lined up to read next. I skimmed a little of your review to avoid anything potentially spoilery, but I'm glad that over all you enjoyed it.

I've read the authors note at the beginning, and I agree it is frustrating. I wondered if it was included so readers knew her life wasn't as extreme/her parents were nice.

Em said...

Can't wait to read this!! Xx

Louise Murphy said...

@LouM couldn't agree more - it's a brilliant read for teenage girls!

@Alice - I wondered the same to be honest because it really didn't convince me that it wasn't based on her life! Just seemed to be to stop people thinking it was entirely her life..!

@Em & Alice - let me know what you thought of it when you read it! I would love to hear your views!
Louise xo

Francesca said...

Wow it sounds a little confusing, i had automatically assumed that How to Build a Girl was autobiographical since um, it so obviously is! Still I just finished reading How to be a Woman and loved it so ill probably still pick it up.

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