Dolly daydreams and Wilde sexual adventures
It's 1990 and Johanna Morrigan, a socially awkward, fat 14-year-old is obsessed with masturbation, making money (to help support her large family who scrape by on benefits) and getting a boy to kiss her. It's not looking too good for Johanna, as her only friend is an elderly woman whom she quickly alienates.
By 1992, the now 16-year-old Johanna has transformed herself into Dolly Wilde, a journalist working for a top music weekly and 'Lady Sex Adventurer' whose romantic exploits are dictated by geography - precisely the distance to Euston Station "where I will invariably have to return in the morning, to get back to Wolverhampton… If it's more than twenty-five minutes in a cab from whatever inevitable Soho venue we're in, I will, ultimately decline sexual intercourse." Johanna has killed 'herself' and built Dolly out of scraps of aspiration and gallons of eyeliner.
The plot seems largely improbable - a fairy story for the modern era - goofy bookworm from Wolverhampton becomes her own Fairy Godmother, and with a flick of a pen becomes one of the most feared music critics in the London press. It just wouldn't happen in real life - except that it more or less did. Author Caitlin Moran goes to great lengths to advise the reader that although she too comes from a large family in Wolverhampton that Johanna/Dolly is not her. The fact that Dolly looks, sounds and dresses like Moran, who started her writing career in her teens in the early 1990s, is merely coincidental.
To be honest, it doesn't matter. How to Build a Girl is a highly entertaining read from start to finish. Johanna is by turns endearing, exasperating and utterly annoying. Another trait that Johanna/Dolly shares with her creator is an absolutely wicked turn of phrase - "I feel as offended as a Christian who's just walked into a conversation on whether the cross that Jesus carries at Calvary secretly had retractable wheels - like carry-on luggage and that Jesus has, in effect, cheated".
There's more to How to Build a Girl than the standard 'coming of age' story, as Moran tackles class and sexual politics. "You wouldn't denigrate a plumber with a lot of experience in fitting bathrooms." Dolly reasons when confronted with double standards. A fun read, especially for those familiar with the 1990s, but not for anyone easily offended.
To Build a Girl
Ebury Press €21.50