I feel about Caitlin (pronounced CAT-lin) Moran’s novel like I do about the writer in general–she says some amazing, provocative, hilarious things. But her enthusiasm could often use some judicious editing, as well as increased awareness.
The novel is a barely disguised autobiographical novel about Johanna Morrigan, who grew up poor in Wolverhampton in public housing and went on to brazen out a career as a music journalist starting in her teens.
I read and mostly enjoyed Moran’s How to Be a Woman, though I think it would more accurately be titled How to Be a White Woman. So the details of teen life in this book are familiar. Johanna is smart, does embarrassing things, is obsessed with sex and music.
Where this book shines is in the frank, realistic talk of teen sexuality, and in the unvarnished portrayal of living in a poor family. Johanna is both funny and heartbreaking. Where it falters, though is in the loosey-goosey time and tense switches and frequent adult voice flashbacks, e.g., “Currently she has post-natal depression –but we don’t know this yet.” (18) My friend Amy was really bothered by the utter lack of birth control/STD protection. And while it makes sense that a teen in the 90’s would have been cavalier about it, Moran might have even mentioned it, even to insert something like, “I know know how utterly irresponsible it was, and how ridiculous coming from a family where my mum cried for years after having unexpected twins.”
Here, go read these quotes, because they are too numerous and good to choose from, and include ones both funny, sad, and insightful.
The Guardian’s Digested Read does a good job of showing the good/bad.
And yet, it’s funny and charming. Johanna makes terrible mistakes, but as she tries out her new personal, Dolly Wilde, the titular built girl of the title, she often amazed and impressed me with her humor, her smarts, her moxie. Ultimately, I found this winning, but I wish this had gone through another round of strict edits so Moran’s exuberance, insight, and humor would shine more brightly.