Today for Fiction Friday, I am doing a book review on the fiction title How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, published in 2014. Or wait a minute, this isn’t a book review. This is a confession of faith.
I will be the first to say that this is a biased review. I am not one of those cold-hearted book critics with failed ambitions behind one ear and Elements of Style by William Strunk behind the other. I review this title with my heart, and my heart only. My head is somewhere in the wardrobe, I’ll get it out later. Maybe for reviewing some duller book at some later date.
As of this writing, Caitlin Moran is my Goddess of perfect writing. I don’t think they had a god like this in ancient Greece, but if they did have one, it should have been Caitlin Moran. I’m so sorry, Dostoyevsky. If it makes you feel any better, the God of heavy books with complicated names is still available.
The protagonist of this book, Johanna Morrigan, is a teenager who comes from a poor neighborhood and a long line of losers. She is a loser herself; chubby, acts inappropriately, and talks and masturbates way too much. However, she is also very determined, very original, and very talented, as well as extremely funny.
I’ve written on this blog previously about my dislike of how women are expected to fit into a certain mold. Well, this book takes that mold, shatters it into tiny little pieces with a jackhammer and sends those pieces to the French Vogue covered in gin, dyed pubic hair and scribbled hand signals.
Johanna wants to get away from her horrible life, and comes up with a new identity. As a psychologist I might say she does some dissociating. Then, she does an excellent (or depending on the perspective, terrible) job of truly living up to her new identity, Dolly Wilde, boozing and sleeping around like there was no tomorrow.
I love the way Moran describes Johanna’s living conditions, portraying it all through the eyes of a teenager, showing us what a bad job her parents are doing and yet doing it in such a manner that Johanna’s love for her family is never doubted. We know she shouldn’t have to live the way she does, but we also see that she doesn’t know it. Towards the end of the book she grows to realize it, but it is only in increments. That is exactly how it would happen in real life.
Caitlin Moran’s writing is a rollercoaster of breathtaking shamelessness, which stops at the top at regular intervals to admire the view before rolling down again to a bucket-load of relatable pain and reliable laughs. Everything about this book is original and fresh, conveying to the reader the squalor of Johannas’ beginnings, the blazing rock ‘n roll phase that both she and the reader adore and abhor at the same time, and the irrepressible joie de vivre and entrepreneurial spirit that Johanna has. Johanna might make some (eh-hm) mistakes but it is obvious to the reader that she is authentic and just as innocent as her years suggest even when she describes her multifaceted sex life in lurid detail.
Johanna Morrigan learns early on in the book that one must never write fan letters, sort of like the opposite of “if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I won’t follow that rule. This is my fan letter to Caitlin Moran. Please, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re my Goddess of perfect writing. Please stay on the Mount Olympus and produce more of this nectar. The world needs a drink.
Note: This as my first stop on my trip around the book world in Around the World Reading Challenge. This is a British title, so I can now tick off Europe. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be heading next!