How to Build a Girl

20604390Author: Caitlin Moran
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Shelves: Realistic fiction, Let me down

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes – and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, 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 Brontes – but without the dying young bit.

By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.


Although Moran and I have personally never gotten along well in my universe, I picked up How to Build a Girl with expectations somewhere beneath the Berlin Wall that rose steadily as the story progressed until it flew higher than Big Cock Al’s mountain of a cock ever stood, under the effects of myriad enigmas, not the least of which was the pull of that cover. It reminded me of Tales of the Madman Underground‘s cover-not my edition of it, however, which is breaking apart.

How to Build a Girl could have been, should have been a star. It’s the story of a girl who, deciding who she is isn’t enough, isn’t real decides to re-build herself. Create a new persona; fake it till you make it. Pretend pretend pretend.

From the beginning, Johanna’s voice leapt off the page; she was as real as could be, even if she =never believed so herself. A vibrant portrait of a girl, she was. For all her faults, for all that egressed with every sentence, there was a dearth of drama, self-righteousness about her-something that enervates me. More than that, however, she was fucking nacreous. Her plight, the way she told us of that was slightly humorous, with a tinge of bitterness, sure-no dolor for her.

I actually loved this part-right up until the actual/feigned transformation of hers starts.

At fourteen, Johanna decides to away to pastures anew! i.e., start the process of Dolly Wilde. Moran was shrews-she didn’t rush it. Johanna remained herself, whilst the rest of the world saw Dolly, with Jojo peeking in from time to time. And so this goes on for two years. Here’s where my troubles started: Johanna didn’t change a bit. From one word to next, she’s suddenly sixteen, not that you would have known from her own voice. This remains a constant bugger throughout the entirety of the novel, like Big Cock Al’s medically shunned big cock up your ass for a goddamn night, with suck self satisfaction as though it were the fucking tower of Babel.

But I bullshit; back to the point, although Johanna changes to Dolly, in a drastic manner so as to lose almost all that she once was, what remains left is just a husk. A husk that makes me laugh, talks sexsexsex and pretentiousness all day long, but never matures. Not even when she’s seventeen, and later on. She reaches her epiphany about trying so hard, emulating for all the wrong reasons, with a bang that brings her down hard, resulting in a vomit of revelations about world, teenagers, pain blah blah blah that almost made me vomit, and I’ve never been a sympathetic barf-er or barf-ee.

As such, the story(or rather Johanna/Dolly), despite its self-deprecating humor and an insight into the world of 1990’s music journalism businesses that I know fuck-all about, started to lose me and skim I did-like a professional blue skimmer.

Not on sale currently. But only 7 left in stock! Hurry! Get your skimmers. NOW!

The story’s written in first-person present tense, Johanna edition. However, in the same tense, even the same goddamn paragraphs, her future self keeps interjecting. Giving all these goddamn sermons that feel like force-feeding and notions about life, breaking the flow and generally bugging the shit out of me. Beyond that, the writing style is compact and engaging; simplistic in sentence structures. Yet it often included long-assed metaphors and similes that destroy the whole purpose of figures of speech by making the sentences tiresome.

And then there were times it simply made no sense:

Hibernating, incubating, pupating in my bedroom, I feel I know…

Otherwise, I could almost love it:

“I have to get out of this room,” I tell him. “Please wait for me. Don’t have all the fun now. Don’t fill up on other people who aren’t me. Don’t ruin your appetite.”

There were other minor issues with the storytelling, details either completely overlooked or exaggerated to the point of no return. One thing that truly pecked at me was her dog; she forgot all about him for a major part of the story. While I don’t harbor a particular love for animals who are up and close, it is one of my pet peeves when animals are left bereft of the protagonist they love. To balance these, I do have my love for her brothers: Krissi(especially) and Lupin. I even liked her parents, to some extent.

In the end, it’ll be a hit-or-miss book. I genuinely enjoyed it-Johanna and the humor-for a while.

Summarily, it’s this:

Enjoy-somewhat. I did-somewhat.

Review copy provided by the publishers.



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