11 August 2014

Caitlin Moran: The Ending. Or is it?

So we've come to the end of this book, and this readalong.  Maybe.  The original idea was to post about the last section and do a wrap up all in one day, but part of me is feeling a little bereft that we're at the end.  Thus, I propose that those of us who want to continue our conversation about Johanna and her family and her awakenings can do so next week, right here.  I'll put up another Linky and we can go from there.

So...Section Three.  When we left off last week, Johanna had recently discovered that rather than being critical and smart and pointed in her music reviews, she was just being a dick.  Now she's worried that she's been a dick to John Kite, and maybe THAT is why he hasn't been pursuing her, even though she's been writing to him about her swashfuckling sexual adventures (I am so glad to live in a world where swashfuckling is a word).  And we can all rest easy that John Kite is an upright kind of fella, not some pedo, and that maybe, just maybe, they will get together when the time is right.

In the meantime, though, two other major things are happening. One of which is Johanna comes to the realization that her relationship with Tony Rich is abusive and then leaves him.  I wonder how metaphorically we're supposed to take this. That is, Johanna finally gets that Tony's sexual sadism isn't doing anything for her and that not only does he hurt her during sex, he treats her pretty shabbily, too.

While I wish her telling him off would have been as mean as her music reviews, I love her self-realization afterwards: "I feel excitingly...free. Things were going to happen to me last night that I did not like -- and I stopped them. I have never prevented my own doom before! I have never stood in the path of certain unhappiness and told myself -- lovingly, like a mother to myself -- No! This unhappiness will not suit you! Turn around and go another way!"

The other major reveal is we learn why the family's benefits were cut 11%: Johanna left school full time.  I have to admit, I didn't see that coming at all, and I was both surprised and impressed by the way her parents handled it.  And this: "I'm learning a whole new thing: that sometimes love isn't observable or noisy or tangible. That sometimes love is anonymous. Sometimes love is silent. Sometimes love just stands there while you're calling it a cunt, biting its tongue and waiting."

A few bullet points for other things I responded to this week:
  • When Johanna mispronounces a word that's only ever seen written out, never heard spoken: "This is the terrible thing about learning everything from books -- sometimes you don't know how to say the words. You know the ideas, but you cannot discuss them with people with any confidence."
  • When she plays her dad's mix tape for the guys at D&ME and what plays is a song called "Sit Down" by James.  My senior year in high school, my very serious boyfriend did a year abroad in England and he made me a mix tape of that song.  I loved it.  And I thought I was endlessly cool because nobody else in my school had access to it, or to the music of The Wonder Stuff.  
I still like the song, but I can't separate my nostalgia for it from any actual merit it might have.  I especially like the last bit, where the singer invites people who feel a breath of sadness, who are touched by madness, or who find themselves ridiculous to sit down next to [me]. Here, go listen it to it for yourself:

  • Incidentally, I found out later that the same boyfriend's parents sent him away for a year as a Rotary Club exchange student because they worried we might be having sex. Remember when I said I had a fucked-up attitude toward sex and wish I could have been more like Johanna? That's because where I lived, it was healthier to send your 18 year old son away for a year than to deal with the fact he might be having sex with his steady girlfriend of two years. (Incidentally, we weren't.)
  • OMG.  How does Johanna not know that Krissi is gay? 
Overall, I've had so much more fun with this book than I thought I would. I mean, I expected it to be fun, but I mostly thought it would be of the frivolous sort.  This book is far more substantive than a casual glance would indicate, chock full of wry social commentary, class issues, and above all, feminism. Beneath the humorous, and even raunchy, veneer, the heart of Caitlin Moran's first novel beats time with the age of feminism.

Part of the fun has been the readalong aspect, so I'd like to thank all of you who have been participating.  Some of you are old internet friends, but the rest of you are new ones and I'm glad that we could all come together each week to hang out there.  I'll miss this! It's been a tough week and I'm otherwise gif-less, but I couldn't end the readalong without letting you know how I feel about y'all:

NB: We wouldn't be gathering here without the help of Harper Collins, the American publisher of How to Build a Girl, who has provided the galley in physical or e-galley format to all of us participating.  I'd also like to give a shout out to Caitlin Moran herself, for writing such an entertaining and provocative novel.


20 comments:

  1. "Beneath the humorous, and even raunchy, veneer, the heart of Caitlin Moran's first novel beats time with the age of feminism." It seems you've written a line of truthy poetry, madam.

    I wanted her to be meaner to Tony, too. And later she said she turned him down with a line from Blade Runner...but I didn't...I couldn't tell what that line was. It's bothering me still.

    Also I guess I have to apologize to Violet now, for blaming her about the 11%. Sooooorry, Violet.

    THANKS SO MUCH, EMILY, YOU'RE THE BEST.

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    1. I was going to quote that bit, too, Emily, but Megs beat me to it.

      ATTENTION HARPERCOLLINS: That shit should be in the book jacket.

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  2. I run up against the issue of mispronouncing words and names that I've only ever read all the time. It took me ages to realise as a 13 year old that hyperbole wasn't pronounced hyper-bowl and any word that is even vaguely French in origin or style is likely to have been butchered by me when I first said it out aloud.

    Your high school boyfriend's parents suck. That's a terrible (non) reaction. Although it reminds me of my high school boyfriend's parents who asked us as we were leaving their house to head out for dinner. I still don't think my face has blazed that hot since. o_O

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    1. Hyperbole was one of those words for me, too. So was abyss, which I pronounced the same as abbess.

      If that had happened to me, I probably never would have gone back to their house. I would have been too mortified.

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    2. It took awhile before I was game to step foot in that house or see them face to face, believe me. But they never liked me so I think that was the intended reaction!

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    3. I don't blame you! Besides they sound like stinkers. I had the puzzling experience of being very well-liked personally (i.e. as a girl named Emily Crowe) by my BF's parents, but disliked generically (as a serious girlfriend of their son). I think they would have been thrilled for us to get married ten years in the future, but they couldn't figure out how to keep us separated until then.

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  3. Oh, I agree that this book is much deeper and much more important than I first imagined it would be - I knew that feminism would play a big role in it - but it just seems so skillfully done.

    It's definitely been a blast! Thanks for taking me in! :)

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    1. yeah, the feminism really served the story, instead of the other way 'round. Our girl Johanna is (almost) all grown up now. I'm going to miss her.

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  4. It's definitely a much more substantive book than I expected. I had some issues with the writing overall, but that said, there's enough strength here that I would read her next novel.

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    1. Well, maybe we can read it along together...just sayin'.

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  5. THANK YOU for hosting this readalong! It has been so much fun, as always.

    I was so happy when Johanna finally stopped herself from doing something she didn't want to do. She was so proud of herself, as was I! Look at Johanna, growing up.

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    1. I know! I feel a proprietary sort of pride in our li'l girl.

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  6. I so called the reason behind the benefits cut! Now realistically, you'd think that they would have told her why they were cut to get her to go back to school... I'm wondering if her dad refused to do that because he saw her working as a way to get himself famous, and if that's what the main source of her parent's disagreement was over the whole thing.

    Emily, you are the absolute most awesome for hosting this.

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    1. Well done on calling it! It came out of the blue for me.

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  7. I totally forgot to mention the implausibility of Johanna not realizing Krissi was gay! At first I was all, She's Being Coy but Knows What's Up. But then she thought Krissi was taking her out to meet her gay best friend, and I didn't sense any irony in the tone... Hm. Maybe Johanna is a bit too self-centered.

    Also the word pronunciation part caused me to sit there, alone in my apartment, pronouncing PARADIGM out loud over and over again. It's a truly funky word.

    THANK YOU AGAIN for hosting this! I am sending you a virtual basket of cookies.

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    1. Yes to the pronouncing of words in one's head. Being a self-identified reader: both a blessing and a curse. :)

      My virtual belly is thankful for the cookies.

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  8. So much yes to that only having seen words written down thing- I remember my friend not being able to say Nova Scotia because she'd only ever seen it written down and it was hilaaaare (is this mean? I know I've done it myself so it doesn't feel mean!)

    Also yes yes yes, it's not as frivolous as you might have expected it to be, or, you know, as it could have been. Awesome fun all round, I think, thank you for hosting, ma'am!

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  9. Haha, I can't believe that Johanna hasn't realized Krissy is gay! I'd love to see that story play out fully in a sequel. I also related to Johanna's trouble pronouncing words she's only read. I've definitely had that problem myself :)

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  10. Mwah! You are the loveliest for hosting this. Sorry this is a billion years late: http://www.reading-rambo.com/2014/08/should-you-read-how-to-build-girl-yes.html

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