Earlier in the month I went to Festival Theatre to see Caitlin Moran on her book/comedy tour How to Build a Girl. The show was a combination of excerpts from the novel (she got a book to sell y’know), name dropping and funny feminist rants, as you would probably expect from Moran. Barely 15 minutes into the show, the audience was encouraged to stand on their (tipping) chairs and yell “I AM A FEMINIST” which they gleefully did. Let me tell you though, the dress circle in Festival Theatre is hiiigh! Laughs came from t
ales of woe anecdotes of having to deal with mooncups in front of a-listers, tweeting under the influence and getting your belly out in the boardroom. After what felt like an epic girly bonding session, of course I had to buy what she was peddling. Not the 5 Rules of Feminism tea towel, but the book.
How to Build a Girl follows Johanna Morrigan as she navigates her way into womanhood. Growing up on a Wolverhampton council estate she is looking for an escape although she is told that there is only one way out – the fame her father dreams of as a wannabe rock star. But Johanna realises that there is only so much you can learn from your family, she must build her own life and in doing so, build herself.
As Moran said on her tour, she thought that she had written a book about adolescence, rock and roll, class, but when the critics reviews came out, turned out she wrote a book about wanking. It would be easy to get caught up in the focus on Johanna’s sex life, it’s big part of the book, but Moran has ensured that this remains realistic, not merely titillating. The fact that young women can enjoy sex, but that it doesn’t always go Hollywood-perfect is a big theme in HTBAG.
If you have read How to Be a Woman, or seen Caitlin Moran speaking, you will know that a lot of the inspiration for HTBAG is from her own life. To be fair, it’s a fun story to repeat. Johanna becomes a music journalist, invents herself as a bitchy, cruel critic until she realises that she can’t and shouldn’t suffocate her enthusiasm, with sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll livening up the proceedings. There are moments, however, when Moran’s voice comes over too strongly. Johanna is a self-reflective teenager, yes, but sometimes she talk about her situation, the politics and social injustice in the past tense and the voice of the thirty-something author pushes its way in. Johanna is momentarily lost behind Moran, the outspoken newspaper columnist.
Despite this, HTBAG is tremendously fun. It’s laugh out loud, cringey and omg I was totally like that. For the most part, Moran has created a new teen heroine to be enjoyed by women of all ages. The book (and tour) is also a pertinent reminder that you build your own life: do something you can be proud of’; if you want change, create it; build a person in yourself that you love. Be more Johanna.
I rated How to Build a Girl 4 stars on GoodReads. I am half way through my 2014 challenge with 10/20 books read. Follow me there.