‘How To Build A Girl’ is like eyeliner. Nothing more than black lines, but still, bloody powerful. Not to be underestimated.
I’m still reeling at how much I relate to the protagonist Johanna Morigan with her revelation “Fuck writing a book about a fat girl and a dragon. I could be a music journalist.” Amazed at how much I (notoriously unemotional, self-diagnosed cynic) invested into her character as with an eye-liner pencil she transformed herself into Dolly Wilde: scathing music critic, sex goddess and the boss of no one. This book made me laugh, but more importantly, it made me think.
It’s important to note that ‘How To Be A Girl’ is not a guidebook. That would imply there is a correct way of doing things. That Moran genuinely believes she has it sussed – that she has the right to tell people how to get their life together. No one reading this book should take away the belief that shoplifting is okay, if you’re poor. That masturbating when your brother is in the room is a good idea. That a threesome is the solution to getting the guy you think you’re dating-but-you-don’t-want-to-ask-because-you’re-scared-of-scaring-him-off’s attention… Although I definitely do buy into Moran’s litmus paper solution:
Why have we not yet discovered a way to find out if someone’s in love with you? Why can’t I press a litmus paper to Tony’s sweaty brow, when we’re fucking, and see if it turns ‘pink’ for love – or ‘blue’ for casual fuck? Why is there no information on this? Why has science not attended to this matter?
The book has been carefully crafted, rigorously edited and refined by a team of editors; that is after all what happens in the world of publishing. Moran’s semi-autobiographical work of fiction tells us that’s okay, though. You’re allowed to edit yourself – go back on what you initially thought was a good idea, and start again. Discard yourself entirely. Cut and paste yourself (although not with a razor because “the world is difficult, and we are all breakable”). If you’re seventeen then you have no need to define yourself; you’re still in the process of etching the score of your life onto a stave – who cares if you hit a bum note every now and then?
Moran has become the Ian Dury & The Blockheads of the 21st Century, giving girls as well as the working class a whole host of reasons to be cheerful. If even then you can’t find anything? It’s okay, Moran says, because a good old wank will sort you right out. Wanking makes the world go round.
Without wanting to belittle Moran’s efforts to remind the world that the world is tough – after all ”growing up is about keeping secrets and pretending everything is fine” – this novel is an alarmingly funny commentary on the humdrum details of a seventeen year old’s life. Fantasising about losing your virginity. Disappointing sex, where you end up getting yourself off as men sleep beside you, blissfully unaware of their ineptitude. Scarily large penises. Kissing people for the sake of being kissed. Being frustrated with how women who have sex (and quite a lot of it, with different people) are perceived. Quarrels with your mother about make’-up:
She doesn’t like the make-up, either.
‘I once nearly blinded myself with a mascara brush,’ she says, looking querulously at my eyeliner.
I don’t want to point out that that says far more about her than it does about me. She might as well be telling me a story of how she once confused ‘push’ for ‘pull’ on a door, then banning me from using doors again – ‘Lest you also be betrayed by doors.’
Drinking shitty alcohol, smoking cigarettes back to front (a far funnier image than Augustus Walter’s ‘metaphor’ – John Green, take note) and blagging your way through conversations that you have no idea what everyone is on about.
If you read this book and take nothing from it? Well then I pity you – because there’s an abundance of profoundness to be appreciated that runs parallel to Moran’s scathingly witty commentary about everyday life.
This book is a pertinent commentary on the nature of criticism and cynicism – the latter of which Moran declares is the product of “ultimately, fear.” It provides the reader (and aspiring musicians/journalists) with a “say it like it is” outlook on the music industry “if you don’t want to be written about – don’t put records out, or prance around on stage like a tit”. It is a pertinent exploration about family, about class struggle. This book encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager. Most of all, though, it explores what it means to be a human.
Words by Beth Kirkbride