I’ve been a fan of Moran’s ever since I read her hilarious story in the British press about trying to learn Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies dance routine. She is a one-of-a-kind talent, untamed by success, outspoken, mouthy, with a wild and brilliant voice on just about everything. And now she’s tackled fiction. Despite an author’s note at the front of the book it does seem that she is using her own life story as material: she is, like her heroine Johanna, a girl raised on a housing estate in Wolverhampton with ambitions to write about music and go to London.
In the novel, Johanna leaves behind a sarcastically sharp-tongued mother and a hopeless father who is just a demo tape away from success and fails to recognise her brother is gay. She also has sex with a man with an overly large member and makes inept attempts at self-harm.
It’s a roller coaster ride of chaos, insecurity, longing and drugs in I’m-with-the- band land. This is rock ‘n’ roll meets Jeanette Winterson. Julie Burchill without the vitriol. Or as Moran herself puts it, The Bell Jar written by Adrian Mole. Raw, rude, irresistible and very funny.
Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.
by Caitlin Moran
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.