How To Build A Girl

So as some of you may know, last week I met Caitlin Moran….

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It was pretty amazing. I’ve loved reading her column in the Times magazine whenever I’m home, and greatly enjoyed her award-winning book How To Be A Woman. I’d heard, however, that she isn’t a great speaker – but I found that to be completely untrue. There were more laughs in the Colston Hall that night than I’ve heard at some comedy gigs; it wasn’t just a night promoting her new book, it was a night full of positive feminist feeling, individual pride, gossip, new mottos for life, and stories about periods. Then we waited in line for an hour and a half to meet the woman herself and as you can see….well I had a pretty amazing night.

Because my mum suffered the point of the brand new hardback falling into her foot (ouchie) we got a special dedication, ‘Sorry for the HTBAG (how to build a girl) injury, C x’. And so all I wanted when I got home was to sit down and start reading. Of course, it was half eleven by the time we got back and I had work the next day, plus I already had a couple of books on the go, and then life things happened…

So I didn’t get to start reading until this Thursday just passed. I read a little in the evenings, but mostly during my lunch breaks at work. And I finally finished yesterday, during a post-IKEA lie down.

  So I’ll get right into it…

howtobuildagirlThis highly autobiographical novel follows the late adolescence to early adulthood of Johanna Morrigan in the early nineties. She comes from a working-class family on benefits in Wolverhampton, and loves reading, writing, masturbating, befriending unusual people, and constructing herself from the outside in (fake it til you make it, is the mantra de jour). Her father is a failed musician and an alcoholic, her mother is constantly taken up with the newborn, accidental twins, and Johanna shares a room with her two brothers, Krissi (older) and Lupin (younger). It starts, as every critic ever has decided is incredibly important, with Johanna masturbating. I can’t be bothered to dwell on such a well-dwelt area, so I’ll just say I thought it was an excellent opening. Very Moran, but that’s ok, because that’s the ride you’re settling into with this book, and it drops you right into it.

Over the course of the novel, Johanna drops out of school, gets a job at a music magazine at the age of 16, loses her virginity, tries crap drugs, falls in love with a rockstar and proposes to him in a review, becomes a sardonic and bitchy reviewer, loses her way, finds – not necessarily her way back, but a sign pointing in the direction of the path that leads the right way. It’s a journey full of ‘that’s so true – that thought process is so true’ moments to ‘I can’t believe that just happened’ moments, with lots of laughs and, for me, a few moving pages where Johanna thinks about having lost her virginity and what it really feels like. There are lots of cringe-inducing scenes and several ‘sigh, oh adolescence’ moments. Yes, this is probably more interesting if you’re a girl/woman who is going/has been through this time. But either way it’s probably worth your time because..

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT GENDER.

This is not a feminist manifesto. This is not a book by a woman solely for women. As Caitlin Moran made perfectly clear in her talk, she is not a man-hater. She also makes this clear in her contribution to the small collection of essays ‘Are Men Obsolete?’. What does come through, however, is how difficult it is to realistically portray the teenage experience (especially when you consider the implications of how many reviewers’ first thoughts were about Johanna’s masturbation). Obviously there is no universal teenage girl experience and Moran doesn’t necessarily attempt to universalise that experience – for instance, I’m pretty sure 99% of teenage girls don’t write reviews for a London music magazine. What she does do, however, is comment on those areas that are sometimes missed out of other teenage fiction

  • masturbation (see above)
  • being a fat lonely teenage girl with hair in the wrong places
  • having siblings who are neither one extreme nor the other (bitter rivals or best of friends)
  • the early 90s experience (obviously not something I was aware of, having been born the year the book ends, but you know what I mean
  • discovering where you fit in the class system – one particularly chapter where Johanna, who comes from a working-class Wolverhampton family, goes to visit her sort-of boyfriend’s posh parental home and meets all his friends, and is struck by the names of his friends, the way they talk, the way they act. She thinks about how people in her society make fun of people like this, these people she is hanging out with. And when she is at the end of her patience after being called his ‘little bit of rough’, she explodes and tells him that he is her experiment, not the other way around – ‘I’m not your little bit of rough, you’re my little bit of posh’ (sic).

While I certainly had an overall positive reaction to this book, and absolutely will recommend it, I have a couple of slightly less positive things to say.

  1. it is very much in style. By this I mean, if you’ve read Caitlin Moran before, you may feel that you’ve been slightly cheated by this book at first as it touches on many (for want of a better word) ‘themes’ covered in How To Be A Woman. HOWEVER this feeling went away over time. Plus usually the only reason you read an author’s second book is to get something new that still has all the things you liked from the first book…so in that way it’s good. This is a complaint I have read a lot in other reviews, but actually found it to pass as the story progressed.
  2. while, as I have said, much of the book is highly relatable, some of the story lacked believability to me. Even if lots of it is based on reality, there were some times when I felt I needed a little more convincing on what was going on, even if that was just an acknowledgment of the incredible scenario.
  3. there wasn’t an overall sense of cohesion in the narrative. Another reviewer on Goodreads has made the point, which I have to agree with on some level, that while this does read like the girl version of The Catcher In The Rye, it is not constructed to be a single, rounded story that leaves you necessarily feeling satisfied in the end. It’s a fantastic story, and I laughed out loud more than once, but while I was immensely happy to sit back and enjoy it, it didn’t feel as though there was any particular reason why this specific part of her life needed to be told.

Don’t get me wrong, that last point doesn’t make this a bad book in my opinion. Like Stephen Fry’s The Liar, this was a book I could just read and read and read, happily, not wanting it to reach the end, not particularly craving a climax – and The Liar is one of my favourite books, ever. The problem with that, however, is that the climax is then, unfortunately, invariably disappointing.

Should I read this book?

It seems I forgot to follow my usual structure today. Ho-hum. I had a lot of thoughts about this bought, barely half of which I have managed to write down, but here’s the conclusion.

Yes, read it. Yes, go out and buy it. Yes, you should read this book. If you are a girl, a boy, a mother, a father, a woman, a man…it’s worth your time. Just read a few pages, and see if it speaks to you. See if it chats to you, makes friends with you, starts to flirt with you a little and gets you a little bit drunk. Then keep reading.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/How-Build-Girl-Caitlin-Moran/9780091949006/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

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Rivers of London (and graduation!)

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Saying goodbye to Swansea!

Today was a pretty big day. I graduated today. I’m an official graduate of Swansea University.

Just allow me this brief tangent today – then I’ll get onto the book. Look at me over there! This was the last picture of the day, once I was de-gowned, de-capped, and degreed. I was getting quite emotional at this point; the ceremony didn’t get to me particularly, although seeing everyone in their gowns was incredible! Felt like a real academic. It was only after the reception, after I’d said goodbye to some friends and favourite lecturers, that I started to get teary.

Then I went back to Sam’s and slept for an hour. After that I decided I should finally finish the book I have been reading this week: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.

riverscover_6Synopsis

Peter Grant is a twenty-something, mixed race police officer in London. The book opens with a brutal murder in Covent Garden, and Grant is stationed at the site. His colleague Lesley goes for coffee, and Grant takes a witness statement from a ghost. This is his first foray into the hidden sectors of the metropolitan police force. He is handed over to Thomas Nightingale, an eccentric middle-aged (or so he appears…) Inspector, who also happens to be a wizard. Grant becomes apprenticed to Nightingale and starts learning about wizardy-things. Along the way, Grant meets some interesting characters, such as his original ghost witness, a strange vampiric housekeeper who looks like the girl from The Grudge, and the physical embodiments of the Rivers of London, included (of course) Mama Thames and the Old Man of the Thames. The backdrop of this, however, is the increasingly gruesome trail following the first murder in Covent Garden, murder upon murder perpetrated by seemingly random and unconnected individuals displaying uncharacteristic rage and violence. Described by critics as what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the police force, this is an unconventional urban fantasy which is simultaneously a magical adventure, a crime thriller, and a love letter to London.

Things I liked

The light, witty style. Peter Grant’s young yet wearied, city-loving yet outsider voice sings through the prose. Such a fun style to just fall into.

The characters. Grant is a great guide to police procedure and London, randomly dropping in little tidbits of historical information and details. Nightingale is a lot of fun, although a little easy to figure out the secret details not revealed until the end. Beverley Brook and the entire river family – particularly Mama Thames and Lady Tyburn – are great, a family of kickass ladies. I even like the ‘bad guys’.

The details about London. Thrown in with the familiarity of a true Londoner, the kind of detail and closeness that cannot be rendered through research.

The exploration of magic. But that’s better read in the book than in this review.

The historical detail.

Things I didn’t like

Couldn’t say. Sometimes a little slow, sometimes not enough dialogue for my taste. But that’s not because there’s an overabundance of description, it’s more about thought process, which works.

Should I read this?

I absolutely recommend. It’s a young book but not a young adult book. It’s funny, it’s gory, it’s intense, it’s believable and fantastical. I say go for it – plus the fourth book in the series just came out if I’m not mistaken. Go forth and read.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Rivers-London-Ben-Aaronovitch/9780575097582/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

The Ambassador’s Mission

I know, I know. I’m a terrible blogger. BUT on the plus side, I have a job now, and although that may mean 9 hours out of my day I can’t spend reading, it means that 9 hours is spent at a computer, so I’m more likely to come home and read at the end of the day.

Anyone who has known me for a long time or been following this blog will know of my love for Trudi Canavan, and in particular her bestselling Black Magician Trilogy. This blog will be a review of the first in her sequel trilogy to that trilogy, called The Traitor Spy trilogy.

Synopsis

Twenty years after the events of The High Lord, Black Magician Sonea is living in Imardin, where she has promised to remain peacefully – if she were to leave, the new rules protecting her as a black magician would be revoked and the old laws reinstated, and she would be exiled from the Allied Lands. Her son Lorkin, however, is not bound by these rules, and as a freshly graduated magician feels a need for adventure (as well as living up to the expectations of having two famous heroic parents), and decides to join the newly named Ambassador Dannyl on a trip to Sachaka for a couple of years. Sonea is worried that the relatives of the Sachakans killed during an invasion of the Allied Lands by her and her lover, the High Lord Akkarin, might seek revenge on their son Lorkin, as their tradition dictates they should. The Guild, of course, allow him to go (otherwise there wouldn’t be a book), and, naturally, he gets into some trouble very quickly.

Meanwhile, Sonea is contacted by her old friend Cery who is now a Thief (sort of like a gangster in this world, each Thief governing his or her own territory), because someone is killing Thieves, and it looks as though they’re doing it with magic. He also enlists the help of the new Thief and drug-dealer of dubious morality, Skellin. Together they search out the rogue magician, in the hopes of also discovering the identity of the Thief killer.

Things I liked

It will be very difficult to keep this short, so I’m mostly just going to sum up. Reading this book this week after starting a generally boring and slightly depressing job, and falling right back into this world I’ve loved since I was a teenager, felt like coming home and settling into a comfy imagination-armchair. It was lovely. The simple act of reading without restraint or expectation on top of that meant this was a book I enjoyed above many other books I’ve read in the last few months. I hope that feeling carries over.

Coming back to the characters. Many of my old favourites are still rocking it – I also enjoyed some of the relationship developments that are occurring, although when I was fourteen I probably would have been upset to know of some of them.

New characters. Lorkin is pretty great, maybe not too well-developed but you certainly get a sense of him as a collection of pieces from both parents. Anyi, Cery’s daughter, is great.

New political developments – relations with Sachaka are going well for once, but a new country outside the Allied Lands is looming, threatening… This also refers to the new developments in the Guild following the Sachakan invasion at the end of the High Lord.

New magical developments – but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory…

Things I didn’t like

The ending didn’t feel like enough to me. I know it’s only the first in the trilogy, but it was all a bit anti-climactic. Hey-ho. That’s it.

(As always, coming back to these now, the writing style feels a bit young again. But reading it this week, I didn’t care at all).

Should I read this?

If you have read and enjoyed the Black Magician Trilogy, then absolutely. If not, go out and read that. It’s a brilliant follow up, and I’m sincerely looking forward to reading The Rogue, ASAP.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Ambassadors-Mission-Trudi-Canavan/9780316037815/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary