Friday, December 5, 2014

"I love this book. I want to die with it." (Review of -How to Build a Girl- by Caitlin Moran)

When you love a book - and by love, I mean fall deeply, head-over-heels, in lust with a book and everything contained in its pages, you just have to share it. And so, I am sharing my latest favorite with you: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. One reviewer on the Barnes & Noble site perhaps said it best: "I love this book. I want to die with it."

Review How to Build a Girl Caitlin Moran
I do have to say: I have one objection to this cover, even though I love the general design (and its font referencing earlier covers of The Bell Jar). Moran constantly emphasizes the fact that her heroine, Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde, is plump throughout the book (it's an important part of the heroine's characterization). So why then do we have a skinny-legged girl on the cover?
Let me say first of all that if you are at all prudish, you probably will not like this book (there's masturbation on page 1, and there are other scenes later in the book about sex that are so raunchy and funny because they are so raunchy I found myself laughing in the middle of Starbucks yesterday afternoon - people were staring. Oh, well).

Here's the thing. Moran often goes for shock-value in this story about a 14 to 17-year-old girl who is trying to write herself out of poverty and finds herself awash in a sea of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Clearly riffing on the now somewhat outdated shock value of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Moran builds a new girl for a new generation: one who is able to resist being the place that the arrow shoots off from (if you're a Plathie, you'll get the reference) to become a weapon: "I am a bullet, being shot out of a dirty gun" (185) (also Dickinson; hmmm...). I like the shock value, don't get me wrong. But I really love this book because it is so beautifully written, in all its filthiness.

Johanna tells us in the book that "Explaining why you love something is one of the most important jobs on earth" (323). Since I feel I can't express my love for this book in my own words just yet, I'm going to let Moran speak for herself. These, among many, many others, are just a few of my favorite sentences:

"I feel like I've just flown 600 miles per hour head-on into the most beautiful metaphor of my life: If you fly high enough, if you get above the clouds, it's never-ending summer. [...] When we finally land in Dublin, and I go off to meet John Kite, I am essentially drunk on the sky."

"When the wind blew in on the street corner, you could see his heart beat under his shirt, and when the conversation accelerated, you could hear his mind chime, like a clock. He was bright bright bright, like the lantern above a pub door in November - he made you want to come in and never leave."

"If you can't save yourself from attack by being powerful - I, palpably, have no power; my hands are empty - then perhaps you can save yourself from attack by being ruined, instead. Blow yourself up before the enemy gets you."

"London feels like an infinite toy. Evenings never end - they just, without you noticing, turn into tomorrow."

"I doggedly taught myself to smoke. I'm impressed by how determined I am, because it is - and there's no two ways about this - filthy. It tastes of the worst brown ever. It's like sucking everything you'd ever put in a bin - ashtrays, burnt pub carpet, yellow snow, death."

"My heart explodes like a swarm of bees."

"And when you are being kissed like this, you are Christmas Day; you are the moon shot; you are field larks. My shoes were suddenly worth a million pounds, and my breath was the ethyl of champagne. When someone kisses you like this, you are the point of everything."

"So what do you do when you build yourself - only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things? You rip it up and start again. That is the work of your teenage years - to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly, like speeded-up film cities during boom times and wars. To be fearless, and endless, in your reinventions - to keep twisting on nineteen, going bust, and dealing in again, and again. Invent, invent, invent."

If you are a lover of language, please read this book. Some of the writing is just so exquisite. And Johanna reminds of a figurine that exploded from the inside out into a thousand tiny, jagged shards and then stitched itself back together with words. I was so sad when the book was over I died a little inside.

book hangover
I really hate book hangovers. And this one is a doozy.
Oh, and put this song on in the background whilst reading. 'Cause it's perfect. A/J

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