I’ll be honest, I went into this book at the tail end of last year with pretty low expectations – humorous coming-of-age tale isn’t my usual cup of tea as I generally read for escapism, not realism. If it wasn’t for the local link (it’s set less than an hour’s drive from where I live – a rare occurance) I may not have actually got around to picking it up. But it’s always great when a book surpasses your expectations so spectacularly. This book probably isn’t for everyone – it’s honest, down-to-earth and down-right rude. But I loved it.
Johanna comes from a large family living on a council estate in Wolverhampton. With plenty of mouths to feed, little money and parents with their own problems, she’s kept pretty busy and so she considers her dog her best friend and spends most of her own time either masturbating or writing. And through the latter of those hobbies, she finds a way to escape her current existence.
At just sixteen Johanna manages to blag herself a role as a music journalist at Disc and Music Echo. To go along with her new career path, she also decides to adapt heavy drinking, smoking and casual sex and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde. And so the antics begins.
I’m not quite sure how to explain what I loved about this book. It’s the first I’ve read of Moran’s writing, and I’m now hungry for more. Like her protagonist, Moran also came from a large family living in a council estate in Wolverhampton, and went onto write for the Times. What Johanna achieved in this story seems at times unbelievable, but knowing the author’s backstory makes you realise that it isit is.
Caitlyn Moran seems to have a knack for capturing real situations in a way which is both hilarious and heartwarming. From living in fear of budget cuts for a poor family, to her first drunken experience, to losing her virginity and developing her first real crush (not necessarily with the same man), it’s all here and it all feels incredibly authentic – bordering on autobiographical.
But through her humour Moran also explores the harder side of life; that of a family struggling to live with their means; of a young woman trying to carve a career for herself in the 1990s, and of that woman struggling to understand her own sexuality.
The young Johanna/Dolly’s perspective is interspersed an older Johanna looking back. It feels a little out of place – there’s no mention that this is a reflective or retrospective tale near the beginning of the book, and most of Johanna’s narration is written in present tense. It does feel this has just been added for Moran to get her own point of view across, and shoehorn in opinions which are wise beyond the years of her main character.
However, you could look at this as just offering further insight to what is a cracking story, and I’ll easily forgive Moran this foible. Because this was one of the most enjoyable, entertaining books I read in 2015.