Caitlin Moran is a feminist icon I can relate to. With newsworthy stunts such as the ‘feminist smile’ where she was met by a standing ovation after contorting her mummy-spongy-tummy into a wide grin for the applauding audience, showing us that stretch marks and saggy tums are not only okay, but normal, it is easy to see why.
Self confessed and unashamedly raised on benefits and in council housing, Moran details how she has worked her way up from abject poverty in the concrete jungle of Wolverhampton to being one of the most relatable female role models of today and earning ‘enough to buy a Nigella Lawson breadbin and eat in pizza express up to three times a week if she so chose’.
How to be a Woman (2012)
This was THE book whereby those not familiar with Morans journalistic and literary life thusfar meet her in the bestseller aisle, and after checking out the slight smirk and coiffured barnet on the cover, maybe once, maybe twice, maybe even going to the local library to find a copy and save a few precious pennies, and thought ‘yes, I could do with some tutelage on my womanhood – I am afraid I may be missing the mark’. Conversely some more enlightened men or perhaps binary gendered peeps may have thought ‘yes, I would like to hear someone else’s perspective on what this whole “woman” gig entails’.
This is NOT what you will get from reading this book, so the title is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. What you will be treated to however, should you deign to open the pages of this literary gem and full on ‘opened your door in your bathrobe with a fag in your mouth’ type of informal and sometimes squeamishly truthful book on Morans trials and tribulations with the whole trial by trial induction into being a woman.
It’s true she’s done better than many, having spent the last 20+ years working in some pretty high profile gigs and meeting some amazing people. Her observations and opinions will make you howl with laughter, nod in recognition and perhaps cringe with discomfort, just like a cozy chat with a good friend would.
Following the success of How to be a Woman, Moranthology was released as a collection of previously published works cobbled together by the author into more or less book shaped thing. It makes interesting reading and contains everything from celeb worship (with a large emphasis on Benedict Cumberbatch and Lady Gaga), funny anecdotes from the Moran/Paphides household (Pete Paphides being her long time friend, husband and father to their two girls), and the more serious ‘setting the world to right’ type stuff. A must read for fans of her work.
How to Build a Girl (2014)
Though writing ‘The Chronicles of Narmo’ at age 15 (though the book was released last year) this is the first fictional offering from Moran ‘the woman’.
As is typical of a first novel, this work of fiction seems largely autobiographical. With some names and places changed, we hear many of the anecdotes and life events from How to be A Woman and Moranthology come to pass.
Following ‘Johanna’ a promising yet creatively stifled teen from Wolverhampton in her quest to better herself and make herself heard, essentially to make herself HER, How to Build a Girl does live up to its name. In a thrilling but not always happy journey, we hear some of the self doubt and depression that does not show itself in the first two books creep in as we are taken on a first person tour of Johannas metamorphosis from Northern loser to London loving scene girl. Changing her clothes, her name, and inventing any necessary back story that helps her get where she wants to go, her lack of identity is apparent from the offing, and one can’t help but fear for her safety and sanity at such a young age.
Thankfully a work of fiction with a very real inspiration, How to Build a Girl will resonate with anyone who felt that they, as the reader ‘weren’t quite there yet’ when reading the first two books, and relate more to Morans teenage foraging in the dark (as well as much fumbling in the dark) for an identity she is yet to find. The books timing couldn’t be better though, as at the peak of her career, we know that Morans struggles with ‘how to be a woman’ had a pretty cracking ending!
My thoughts: Read each book in sequence. You may hear some stories more than once, but they are well worth repeating.