How to Be Famous
First things first, dear reader. If you have never read anything by Ms. Moran, this book is not the place to start. Not only is it a sequel to her first novel, How to Build a Girl, but the author has a particular writing cadence that – shall we say – takes getting used to. Her non-fiction works have pride of place on many shelves (I particularly recommend How to Be a Woman, a collection of essays published several years ago), and they would be where I would recommend dipping your toe into her oeuvre.
Johanna Morrigan (aka music journalist Dolly Wilde) has finally escaped Wolverhampton and has ‘made it’ in London. On paper, her life is everything she ever wanted, but inside she is miserable. Her best friend John has become a famous musician and is no longer her daily companion. She’s still ‘with him’, as she uses his fame to launch a column where she tells his stories of tour life, but he’s not around. She questions their connection, and even though she desperately loves him, worries he will fall out of love with her now that he’s a ‘thing’.
In the meantime, she has a fairly crap one night stand with a douche of a standup comedian named Jerry Sharp. Jerry becomes the ultimate villain of Johanna’s life – publicly sex shaming her and turning her into a meme before the Internet. How does she protect herself? How does she fight back? How disgusting is Jerry? Is Johanna the first woman he’s done this to? These questions are what drive the plot of How to Build a Girl, which is a wild ride through the 1990s London music scene.
There are things I loved about this book – the conclusion was stunning and Moran’s description of bodies and relationships as houses is something I will carry with me – but there were just as many things I couldn’t stand. It’s crass and revels in that crassness, wallows around in the rawness. So while I really liked where we got to, I can’t say I enjoyed the process of getting there. I’m not a fan of reading about drug use – and it’s here in abundance. I don’t love books where people are awful to each other and selfish – those are main motivators for a lot of folks in this book.
I have friends who grew up in the 1990s in the U.K. who have informed me I just can’t ‘get’ this book because I wasn’t there. Perhaps that is true, and I’ll allow that. Not all art is for everyone. If that’s the case, I’ll stick to Ms. Moran’s essays and columns, and leave her fiction for others.