21 July 2014

Caitin Moran Readalong: How To Build a Girl, the Middle, but not the Middling

Welcome to the Great Caitlin Moran Readalong of 2014.  A nifty group of bloggers are discussing her novel, How to Build a Girl, almost in a play-by-play mode.  We're all thankful to Harper Collins, who is sponsoring this pre-publication readalong. This book isn't published in the US until September, but if you like what you see, we'd love for you to pre-order a copy here.  Beware: ahead, there be spoilers, so read at your own peril!

When we left off last week, Johanna had just mortified herself on live television by imitating Scooby Doo, landing her entire family in a world of humiliation and teasing.  She had just decided that she wanted to die. Luckily for us, she meant that in an entirely metaphorical way, and she spends the opening chapter of this week's portion trying to decide what name would best suit her going forward. In her own words, "It's got to work in print -- it must suit black ink -- but it also needs to sound cheerful when shouted across a bar. It must sound like a joyful yell."  Juno Jones, Eleanor Vulpine, Kitten Lithium, Laurel Canyon, Belle Jar, and Dolly Wilde.  Which one will she choose?

Hello, Dolly
Having chosen "Dolly Wilde," she seeks out her fortune amidst the goths of Wolverhampton, only to be rejected. She tries to connect with her goth cousin but that's a no-go: "I shift awkwardly. I'm pretty sure I've read this correctly -- that this is the outpost for loners. That, culturally, this is what I should be filed under...People with no upper body strength, who read poetry. These are my people. I am wearing a black waiter's jacket, black boots, black tights, and so much eyeliner that I look like a puffin. Given this effort, I thought the counterculture would just . . . let you in. I didn't know there was an interview process."
Goth fail
Later at a family reunion, though, that same goth cousin ends up giving her a piece of valuable advice: fake it 'til you make it. The rest of chapter eight is an exploration of Dolly's goth phase and the phrase "I am the bastard son of Brendan Behan," which makes no sense to me because I do not understand the cultural reference, even after doing a Google image search. Help?

Eventually she gets a second piece of valuable advice from an unlikely source: her father tells her she should write, not just talk about being a writer.  Totally obvious on the surface, but *so* much more difficult to live by.  She gives it a pretty good shot, though, and puts together a pretty impressive body of record reviews:
Yup, that's pretty much how she does it
We also get the lowdown on the history behind her father's injuries and inability to keep a job.  I'm telling you, Caitlin Moran can do more with two small paragraphs to sum up a character's backstory than just about any other author I've read recently:
"If you want to know why we're poor, and why Dadda doesn't have a job, here's why: back in our house. By Dadda's bed. A big, white pot of pills. Daddy's pills.  
Daddy was in a band, and when they didn't make any money, he got work as a fireman, and one day -- it was a very bad day -- he got trapped on top of a burning factory. And when he woke up in hospital, they told him he'd broken nearly a quarter of all the bones in his body when he jumped."
In chapter 9, we've moved forward abruptly two years, and the narrative switches (also abruptly, but just temporarily) from Johanna's first person POV to a close third person focusing on Dolly Wilde. In fact, it feels less like third person per se and more like Johanna has simply started referring to herself in the third person as Dolly Wilde.  She goes to an interview in London with Disc & Music Echo (D&ME) for a music journalist position.  She somehow flubs the interview, but in the next chapter she's got the assignment, so I think I missed something, somehow.

In chapter 10, Johanna/Dolly is back to narrating in the first person and she gets her first real gig: covering a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Birmingham.  This leads to her first review being published, her dropping out of school, and her being invited to do her first musician interview...in Dublin.  Things are clearly happening for Dolly, but are they all good?  Can she really just drop out of school like that? And is there not some UK equivalent to the GED that she could sit for?

Tune in next time, when we see what happens in Dublin and beyond!

NB: Y'all, I'm sorry that this post is so simple this week, but we had some troubles with our dog and one of our cats this weekend and the time I had set aside for reading our chapters and then responding to them was otherwise taken up by the animules...


30 comments:

  1. Wow. I totally missed the change in perspective. Now I feel like a dummy. :) I also had to suspend belief when she got the job... not so much because of the flubbed interview, but she's SIXTEEN, and it's a national magazine , no? Anyway. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The change in POV was fleeting. As for landing the job, maybe it was a simpler age than what I actually remember. Maybe the editors thought an ounce of persistence was worth a pound of experience. Or something.

      Delete
    2. That was my thought too, better job market for 16 year old music critics perhaps? :)

      Delete
  2. I had to suspend belief too April :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Other folks have reasonably justified it in their posts, and maybe I'm too hung up on the legality of hiring a 16 year old in the US, but I'm stil skeptical.

      Delete
  3. Hope the animules are OK. :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks--one is just old and full of benign lumps. the other is old and needs serious radioactive treatment for his thryoid.

      Delete
  4. Oh, I thought they'd already decided to hire her before she came in because her writing was so good. That's why they thought she was actually a 45-year-old man. Because that's what they are. But yeah, so when she walks in they're like "RIGHT THEN, here's your job. Tah-daaaaah."

    I have also missed this change in perspective. Curse everything.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Also, it sounds like Brendan Behan was a rather iconic writer, born in Ireland, lived in Britain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brendan_Behan

    ReplyDelete
  6. I found it difficult to believe that she could just walk into a job like that at sixteen, with no GCSEs and an ill-judged joke. No doubt they'd made up their minds on the merits of her reviews. But this story sounds really, really familiar - was it Moran's own personal experience? They do say that reality is stranger than fiction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it was Sarah this week who said that yes, this was in some ways almost a word for word way of how Caitlin Moran got her job, as presented in Moranthology.

      Delete
  7. I thought the same thing about the job at first, but then I second-guessed myself thinking that maybe the job wasn't that big of a deal because it was a free magazine? It still seems like it was pretty easy for her to just walk in and out as a sixteen year old, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And maybe those times have changed--maybe the early 1990s were a more innocent time, not fraught with all of those pesky child labor laws we're burdened with here in the US.

      Delete
  8. Caitlin Moran got a job on the weekly publication "Melody Maker" ( a UK weekly published pop/rock music newspaper)at the age of 16.
    Having read this book a lot of it seems to be "semi-autobiographical" with the obvious exception of the Scooby Doo episode - she's much too cool for that!!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. The change in perspective felt jarring to me. And her whole job interview thing WAS really weird, but I recognized basically that exact scenario from the first chapter of her book Moranthology, which was kind of disappointing (except it didn't go nearly so well for her in real life). But yeah, I'm thinking she got the job because her writing was good and she was willing to churn out assignments as much as she could.

    Oh and as a sidenote- and in my little corner of the US, if you're sixteen you don't need a GED-test or parent's permissions really to drop out. I left school when I was 17 and I didn't get my GED until I was 20 or 21 and was worried my temp job wouldn't hire me on if I didn't have it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm...maybe it varies from state to state. I think in MA you have to go to school until you're 16, and the GED isn't required for dropping out, but it's often required by employers for pursuing a job. Conversely, there are really strict labor laws in MA for teens--not only is there a limit on the number of hours, but there's a limit on WHEN those hours can be worked in a week. Exceptions are made for agricultural jobs, though.And I think the laws are in effect even if the 16 year old is no longer in school...

      Delete
    2. Laura will be the best one to answer properly, but I'm fairly sure England has a similar system in place to what Australia used to have. It used to be that you could leave school in year 10 (15/16 y.o), and you just finished with a diploma up to grade 10. If you then decided you wanted to go to university, you could either go back to high school and finish your final two years (depending on your age obviously) or go through a year of TAFE which basically sped through year 11 and 12 and got you a high school equivalence.

      You have to stay in school until year 12 here in Australia now, and I think the UK is bringing that in as well, if they haven't already.

      And we have similar laws Emily with working as a teen here in Aus. They're stricter now than when I was in high school, but I think they cap the hours and you can only work weekends. But they didn't exist 14 years ago when it was still legal to leave school at 15.

      Delete
  10. EVERYTHING STOPS WHEN THE ANIMULES NEED ASSISTANCE. I understand this rule, for it is at work in my own life.

    Dolly Wilde is really not that bad compared to her other ideas. My friend and I used to use fake names when we met boys at the beach or the mall because we thought we were SO clever. Well...our names were Roxy and Angel, which are basically stripper names (and also the name of my future husband, in the case of the latter, which I occasionally have a good laugh over).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I'm sorry to hear about your own animule trouble, but yes, everything else must come second when that happens.

      HAHA to your being called Angel and then Bam, you marry one. Curious: did you use the Anglo or Español pronunciation for Angel?

      Delete
  11. Hope your animals are doing better! :(

    The section about her dad's injury was absolutely heartbreaking. I was feeling all sympathetic toward him for the rest of the section, until he 1) apparently drove his daughter home while fall-down drunk and 2) was totally cool with her decision to drop out of school, presumably because he thinks it will help him achieve middle-aged fame. Screw you, Pat Morrigan!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Brendan Behan was an Irish poet/playwright that was in the IRA when he was a teenager. Johanna's dad mentions him first right? I'm guessing it's a mix of the IRA/Republican background and the fact that Brendan Behan is mentioned in a bunch of songs by British bands, especially The Pogues, so fits into the musician father, music writer daughter context.

    Hope your animules are doing okay. Nothing more stressful than an unwell pet :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Omg my friend is in a Pogues cover band! I wonder if I've heard Brendan Behan's name shouted around at their gigs? I'll have to listen more closely next time :)

      Delete
    2. I think it's mostly lines from his poems, but I'd definitely guess you're more familiar with him than you realise. Also, your friends sound awesome.

      Delete
  13. Re: the POV shift - I'm with you on that being Johanna talking about herself, as Dolly, as a character.

    Nooo, the animules! I hope they're alright.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I hope your animals are doing ok!

    I have really mixed feelings about her dad. I thought he was a bit of a muppet first, but then when found out about his injury I started to like him a little. As Rayna mentioned though, he does make some pretty shitty decisions. Such mixed feelings!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Haha, I also thought the change in perspective seemed like Dolly/Johanna might just be talking about herself! I liked it :) I'm a bit concerned about her dropping out of school myself, but given the semi-autobiographical nature of the book, perhaps she'll be wildly succesful.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think the deal with the interview was, she acted like she had the job, and then they kind of just included her in the magazine. I honestly feel like this is the best advice anyone has ever given anywhere.

    I think over here you can drop out of school when you're 16? (I don't know man, I just do all the education I can get!) I feel like everyone's getting a bit hand wringy about her dropping out of school, but, I mean, she's already got an awesome job, and education isn't necessarily everything, and life is a learning experience... no?

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm hearing great things about this one. I'm glad you are enjoying it so far!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I looooove Johanna trying to fit in with the goths and failing just spectacularly. Because it does seem super unfair to have to interview to be part of this culture of loners and WHAT THE HELL. Poor girl. Even nepotism couldn't help her. But whatever, she's way too enthusiastic for the goths.

    ReplyDelete

Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)