Sunday, July 17, 2011

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

There has been a massive buzz around this book, in fact it could be better described as a clamour. On Twitter, anyway. I myself was quite looking forward to reading her new semi-autobiographical novel, full of feminism and funniness - yes, both! Simultaneously!

I didn't buy it because I felt guilty reading that when I have a million books to read for A-Levels. Shit, I'm feeling guilty right now. But then someone offered to lend it to me and I thought this was a sign it was meant to be, or something.

It's called 'How To Be A Woman'. Now, I wasn't expecting an instruction manual as such, but a little more direction would have been great. Am I not her target audience?

I'll start from the top. The aesthetics. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't stand the CAPITALS FOR EVERY PUNCH-LINE USED IN ORDER TO REALLY EMPHASISE THAT IT'S FUNNY or the italics or the repeated punctuation?????!!!!!!!!!!!!! Perhaps that is supposed to appeal to me, as a 17 year old female, but it really doesn't. I suppose Caitlin Moran is just too enthusiastic for me. And here lies my basic problem with the book: we're too different. Now, I know this isn't her fault. She couldn't have written the book as anyone else but herself, after all. But I don't think there are many that will be able to relate nowadays. I'll explain.

She grew up with a big family with an interminable number of sisters (although she only ever speaks of one, awkward), living up north, or wherever Wolverhampton is. As a Londoner and an only child from a single-parent family, I just can't sympathise with her experiences when she was younger. But also, the fact that her mother didn't even explain about periods for example is simply not relevant to teenagers today. We must be becoming more liberal about that kind of thing, because I didn't know of anybody, when I was 13 or thereabouts, who was that naive. People just know this stuff now, it's everywhere - in school I suppose, as well as being talked about more freely by their parents. Just ingrained in culture, in TV programmes, in adverts.

Then a teenage Caitlin moves to London, having miraculously found work at the Melody Maker. She doesn't explain how she does this though, which is what would actually interest me as someone who is yet to enter working life. Now that she's in London, and older, I should really be able to 'get her' a bit more. But there's another factor that just doesn't appeal to me: her desire to look cool. Now I hate those kind of people, the cool kids, that do things just to have them reported on Facebook afterwards. It's one of the many reasons I don't have any friends. They annoy me no end - and you probably think that's just because I'm not cool, and I'm jealous. That may be true. But it still pisses me off, when a grown woman writes "and then I went outside and had a fag" to round off every anecdote. I'm going to sound like a biology teacher here, but smoking isn't cool. I lose hope whenever I witness people 10, or more, years older than me, who still like to brag about how many drinks they had last night or how they are just sooo addicted to cigarettes and have tried to quit like a milliooon times but just can't do it!

I was previously under this illusion that people grew out of that stage, but I've discovered that they really do not. It's a shame, because it bores me terribly. Do what you like to do, and enjoy it. If you like smoking, all right. If you don't, okay. Neither is a particularly fascinating add-on to a story.

Also, her love for Lady Gaga is a massive turn-off. Her music is terrible; reminiscent of Eurotrash. I wouldn't be surprised if Lady Gaga were secretly a talented musician, but this fails to appear in her chart-toppings songs. Why doesn't Caitlin Moran, a former music journalist, recognise this? Then there's the 'Gaga' personality - oh but she is interesting and quirky, some of you may be thinking. No, she isn't: anyone can carry around a vintage-looking teacup and wave with only one finger. She's pretentious, and worse, she doesn't admit it. From the moment she declared on Jonathan Ross "I'm inspired by no one", I could not take her seriously. Her stage name is taken from Queen, her lightning bolt make-up from Bowie and her 'mermaid in a wheelchair' routine from Bette Midler. Which is all fair enough (sort of) if you 'fess up, but Lady Gaga hasn't done that.

Ultimately, as Hector in The History Boys says,

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
For me, there weren't many of these moments. I started reading it thinking I was her target audience - after all, I needed to know How To Be A Woman, right? But I now realise that her reader should actually be someone of her age. My mother very much enjoyed it. But my mother already knows how to be a woman.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, and I wish I was as insightful as you at your age.

As for the smoking, drinking etc, I share your view but it's my experience that people tend to grow into that phase, and then grow out of it, and back into it again as they get older. Or perhaps just a certain type of person.

My very sensible librarian flatmate (American) had a very educational introduction to British drinking culture the other day (a Tuesday in fact), came home at 2am and pooed in the bath.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say with that anecdote, except perhaps that if you find yourself in a laugh or cry situation, choose laughter.

That's all I can add to the topic of How To Be A Woman!

Mary said...

An excellent post and a good, honest review. I've passed on Lisa Bloom's Think to my 14-year-old daughter to read but Moran's book, which I just finished reading, is going straight in a charity bag. She makes a few good points but it's not a book I'd recommend to anyone.