How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

RATING: ★★1/2 (2.5/5 stars)

I love Caitlin Moran’s humor, her gift for striking metaphors and similes with their frequent sprinkling of pop-culture references, but I’m not sure if book-length work is her strong-suit. I read most of her autobiography, ‘How to Be a Woman’ earlier this year and had to put it down for the frequent hypocrisy littering her feminist points (going out of her way to mention the importance of trans visibility but then blithely centering many of her jokes and rants around trans-exclusionary generalizations of how all women go through having periods/uteruses, for one example). She tries, and I appreciate this, but she hasn’t quite absorbed all of what it means to really be inclusive or intersectional.
Having so recently read her autobiography, this work of ‘fiction’ felt highly repetitive. Had I not gotten it from the library as an audiobook, and had Louise Brealey’s reading of it not been so wonderfully acted, I likely would not have finished it. Though I’m sure much of the detail in the story is largely fictionalized, all of the major story arc mirrors Caitlin Moran’s own adolescence: fat poor girl on Wolverhampton estate in the ’90s wants to sex up her life, leaves school to work for music mag, has shitty relationship, eventually leaves home to live in London. Her liberal working class family of autodidacts, her penchant for eating cheese, even her odd pet dog were all obviously lifted from her own biography. And I enjoyed her biography, I enjoyed all of these details, but it wasn’t exactly original material; it felt like Moran was plagiarizing herself. Also, there is the conflicting voice of the narrator– is this a story being told, like to a diary, by a teenage girl, or is this a story being told by an adult reflecting back. A good editor should have put their foot down. And there were the long, slightly didactic, philosophical essays stuck in at the end of every other chapter attempting to gloss over the crudeness of her actions by flowing out a philosophical reflection; these were often quite beautiful but, as others have noted, could have been placed better, as they come off very incongruous.
I want Caitlin Moran to write a story that proves she can really use that clearly active imagination of hers. By all means, still write about a poor fat girl growing up in Wolverhampton, draw on your own experience, as writers do, but mix it up a little. Maybe write about a girl who has conservative parents that support Thatcher, or a girl who is gay, or even just has a cat instead of a dog, or actually talks about the friends she has, or is not quite as obsessed with sex, but wants to be, or…any slight variation. Otherwise, maybe just write some more witty essays, those are always good. Back to the drawing board and get a new editor.


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