I’m Johanna Morrigan, and I live in London in 1995, at the epicentre of Britpop. I might only be nineteen, but I’m wise enough to know that everyone around me is handling fame very, very badly.
My unrequited love, John Kite, has scored an unexpected Number One album, then exploded into a Booze And Drugs HellTM – as rockstars do. And my new best friend – the maverick feminist Suzanne Banks, of The Branks – has amazing hair, but writer’s block and a rampant pill problem. So I’ve decided I should become a Fame Doctor. I’m going to use my new monthly column for The Face to write about every ridiculous, surreal, amazing aspect of a million people knowing your name.
But when my two-night-stand with edgy comedian Jerry Sharp goes wrong, people start to know my name for all the wrong reasons. ‘He’s a vampire. He destroys bright young girls. Also, he’s a total dick’ Suzanne warned me. But by that point, I’d already had sex with him. Bad sex.
Now I’m one of the girls he’s trying to destroy.
He needs to be stopped.
But how can one woman stop a bad, famous, powerful man?
I’ve been aware of Caitlin Moran since my 20s – she is the same age as me, and I remember watching her presenting Naked City with Johnny Vaughan and interviewing the likes of Blur, (jealous as hell, obviously), and of course writing in Melody Maker (I see you, fellow oldies).
Having read ‘How to Build A Woman’, and enjoying the sitcom she wrote ‘Raised by Wolves’ I headed off to my local library and borrowed a copy of ‘How to Build A Girl’. I loved Caitlin’s writing style, and her witty and engaging prose, and I, along with most people who read it, fell a little bit in love with Johanna Morrigan (and her alter ego, Dolly Wilde).
We catch up with Johanna pretty much where we left her albeit a little further on in time. In London, 1994, living in her own flat (at 18!) and pining after musician John Kite – her best friend and unrequited crush who has recently undergone a meteoric rise to fame thanks to the rise of Britpop.
When a disastrous sexual encounter threatens to become public knowledge and blow up her whole career and reputation, we watch Johanna struggle with an internal battle between the guilt and shame she feels, and the rise of the feminist within as she rallies against the injustice of the double standards applied to men and women and determines to fight back to reclaim both her body, and her self-respect. It’s about coming of age, standing up for yourself – even if you’re not sure you’re in the right, discovering your own voice and making sure it’s heard.
Johanna’s family make cameo appearances (if you’ve read How to Build A Girl you’ll be pleased to catch up with them) and her Dad appear a little too often for her liking, and wearing way too little. She has old friends, and crazy new ones, and is still no stranger to a vodka bottle. She’s a mess of working too hard and partying too hard, but what else is an 18 year old supposed to do in London?
If you’ve read Caitlin’s work before, you’ll know what to expect. Her writing is witty, close to the bone, honest and gritty – sometimes over-effusive, but it’s exactly how I think Johanna would write. I found this novel to be touching and funny, and being around the same age as Johanna in the book at the time it was set took me right back to those halycon days when Britpop was everywhere, cool Britannia ruled and everyone felt that Britain was on the verge being great again. Great fun.
Thanks to NetGalley and publishers, Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing, for the opportunity to review an ARC in return for an honest and unbiased review.