A brief synopsis:
It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents 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 Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.
Blah blah blah.
I found this review really hard to write, moaning to Hannah of Hannah Reads Stuff on Twitter to the same effect. She asked me what my initial reaction was and I can say, truthfully, that when I started to think about my review, I hadn’t even finished the book.
I know, odd to start constructing a verdict when you’re part way through the text, but I’m weird like that. I like to think ahead about blog posts, if not other things in my life, alright?
So I answered honestly (my opinion there and then), in under 140 characters:
I liked it but Johanna annoys me. Bit try hard in the humour stakes and maybe the sex bits.
Which is how I felt.
See how I am alluding to the fact that I’m done reading in my response? (Sorry Han). When I wrote that, I was a couple of chapters from the end but assumed (correctly as it goes) that I would finish it slightly underwhelmed but overall happy to have read it.
And now I am finished, that’s it, more or less. However, I really feel as though the book took a turn that irritated me.
In fact, in the Acknowledgements page, Moran suggests that she struggled to finish the book and had to be talked down from a ledge more than once by a patient and caring (I would imagine) saint of a friend.
I think if I sat down and spoke to her about this, I would be able to correctly pinpoint the moment the tone (and quality) changed, because she was floundering. You know, because I’m the expert at writing and all.
Anyway, I can’t go into the bits that peeved me for fear of ruining it for other readers (and boy, a lot of my friends are all over this book, or about to be).
I can say that fourteen year old Johanna is likeable for a moment but gets old quick. By the time she is a fully fledged ‘Swashfuckler’, I just wanted to scream “Shut up shut up shut up” at the page.
Johanna, or ‘Dolly Wilde’ is too much of a cliché (then weren’t we all back then?) and a bit of a dick. She realises this herself eventually (ooh spoiler) but the lesson she learns as the ending comes into view feels a little tacked on. She’s so pretentious (and I like a bit of that sometimes) that I simply don’t care if she makes it or not. (And of course she does!)
On a more positive note, I liked her older brother, Krissi (though his dialogue is overwrought with pretension), liked the family and I liked John Kite. I also approve of the sex talk to a point because sex talk is my favourite. It is good to read a book that doesn’t mind talking about masturbation and f**king, had I read this book as a teen I may have been a lot more sexual with myself (and others? Probably not).
But again, as Dolly gains more experience it becomes, somehow, more boring. We get it, you’re shagging. Nice one. Stop saying ‘c*nt’ just to shock me, it doesn’t, it’s just jarring now.
Am I glad I read it? Yes. Does it hold up against How To Be a Woman? Nope, but then can you compare a book of essays on Feminism to a novel about an annoying teenager? This is fiction right?
There lies my issue. I think I fell out of love with Caitlin Moran a while back. She trumpeted into my life like a goddess and made me fist pump with glee when I read HTBAW. Then she got annoying, came off as showoffy and a little bit smug and my problem with Johanna is that I can’t think of her as not Moran.
She is obviously writing about what she knows and I would be doing exactly the same thing if I were to write a novel, I’m sure but my inability to disassociate has obviously tainted my overall experience. I think that says more about the author than me though.
I’m glad I’ve read it and I will probably read more Caitlin Moran, but I might stick to the essays and avoid spending too much time in her company. She’s like the friend we all have who is fun because she’s loud and funny (sometimes) but gets on your wick after ten minutes.
- How To Build a Girl
- Publisher: Ebury Press (Fiction) (3 July 2014)
- ISBN-10: 0091949009
- ISBN-13: 978-0091949006
- Bought hardback (new)