How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

51JWSbw87QL …’if we are to hold to account those who commit atrocities that lead to the destruction of humanity, then surely the knock must come, soon, for the Soup Dragons’.

All fiction is of course thinly-veiled autobiography, and there is more than most, clad only in gossamer, in Caitlin Moran’s fine novel How To Build A Girl. Like its heroine Johanna, Moran was brought up in a large family in a council house in Wolverhampton. ‘But Johanna is not me,’ Moran writes in a forward. But she is really. This isn’t the problem that some reviewers have taken it to be: Moran is an unusual voice: she is a successful writer in a media industry in which success, for a variety of reasons, is tilted towards middle-class men. She can write about being poor and on benefits from experience, in a way that most high-profile writers simply can’t. She is also articulate and funny. Most writers aren’t. In short, Moran is worth reading, however she chooses to spin it. So to the book: Johanna takes the pen name Dolly Wilde and morphs into a music critic as a way out (as Moran did). It is the early 1990s. There are some poor bands whom she savages in print. There is a lot about sex and drugs. ‘It is a majestic thing to walk out of a building, in a rangy booze squad’, Dolly writes as she and her muso colleagues emerge from a pub. So it is.  She learns that being cynical all the time is reductive, corrosive and rather dull. Making a ‘viable version’ of the you that you want to be is tricky and takes time. Johanna/Dolly’s review (see above) of a Soup Dragons album is not dissimilar in tone to Moran’s (real-life) Melody Maker review of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Minus the comparison to a Nazi war criminal. Much of the description of her relationship with Tony Rich (fictional) bears strong resemblance to her relationship with Courtney (non-fictional) in Moran’s earlier memoir How To Be A Woman. Moran has been happily married with children for some years now, and doesn’t tend to be rude about anyone except David Cameron. There is a message in that somewhere.

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