All that summer, as I end up in his flat over and over, drinking his wine, having his bad pervy sex, and then lying on the bed, talking about Auden’s influence on Morrissey, I feel like we’re in a huge, ongoing, surreal session of the Rizla game, in which Rich has stuck a Rizla on my head on which is written either ‘My girlfriend’ or ‘Not my girlfriend’, and I am having to guess which it is with a series of questions which he can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This whole situation seems like a massive societal problem. Why have we not yet discovered a way to find out if someone’s in love with you? Why is there no information on this? Why has science not attended to this matter?
Whether I’m in love with him seems far less important than whether he’s in love with me. I never take me to one side and ask myself, ‘Do you actually want him?’, because I feel like I never really see me around, any more. This is another drawback of living in a house with no mirrors.
observations: This is Caitlin Moran’s brand new novel, as opposed to the anthology of her feature pieces (Moranthology) or her memoir/feminist tract (How to Be a Woman) or her sitcom pilot (Raised by Wolves). Of course this one is fiction, and the narrator has a different name. But it’s clear that Moran takes her material where she can find it, which is in her own early life. As everyone (in the UK anyway) must surely know, she grew up on benefits on a council estate in Wolverhampton, in a loving but dysfunctional family: father on Disability, no money at all, random education, endless siblings. She was obviously extremely bright, and well-read (via libraries), and she became a music press writer very young, and is now one of the best-paid journalists in the UK. (For an illuminating interview with her, click here.)
So no surprises that Johanna Morrigan, protagonist, shares a lot of that history. I found the book immensely readable, I raced through it, but I did not find it laugh out loud funny, although other people did. It raised a smile from time to time, and also some pouty-faces when she wrote in detail about things I didn’t want to hear about. Nothing – no bodily function, no sexual possibility – is left unexplored. (She seems obsessed with masturbation, something she shares with Julie Burchill, mentioned several times in the book, a kind of prototype Moran for the 1980s rather than 90s).
But she does write extremely well about being a teenage girl, and the problems and breakthrough moments that result, the goods and bads. This might be surprising – given that her life experiences are so very different from anyone else’s – but there can’t be many women of any background or age who wouldn’t have some moments of recognition in this book, that feeling of ‘I know exactly what she means, and I’ve never seen it written down before.’
She’s also great at describing a time before Google:
We spend the next hour talking about what we know about Serge Gainsbourg. In the days before the internet, this is how you found out things about music – there was nowhere all the facts were kept. You learned things piecemeal, in conversations, instead – sometimes having to go all the way to a bar in New York, at 3am, to find out something that twenty years later, you could have just discovered using an iPhone, on a bus.And what goes on in nightclubs:
I’m in a kiss! The captains of this nightclub are picking their teams of Sexually Active Teenagers – and my name, finally, has been called!
A highly enjoyable book, with a lot to say about how young women see themselves, and how they arrange themselves around men, and how they can grow out of that. The heroine manages to combine being self-deprecating and making mistakes, with being positive about life and sex, and taking control of her own destiny. A rare combination.