I’m a little bit in love with Caitlin Moran. The glorious mixture of frankness, feistiness and common sense in her How To Be A Woman made me an immediate devotee and her follow-up book has been on my wishlist for a long time. Collecting together some of her columns, it gives Moran the chance to demonstrate that she’s able to write wittily and perceptively about many other topics than that of being a woman, although she is, as she points out, quite an expert on that.
The book is effectively a smorgasbord of opinions, most of which are liable to make you snort with laughter (and potentially choke, if you happen to be drinking coffee at the same time), but some of which are unexpectedly serious and all the more moving for that. From Doctor Who to the problems of mental health care in modern Britain; from her pride in paying tax to her loathing for Lola from Charlie and Lola; from burkas to children’s party-bags; from government benefits to 19th-century lesbians; Moran is never less than thoroughly entertaining, engaged and a darn sight more down-to-earth and competent than most columnists I’ve read. Plus, she’s a massive Sherlock fan.
Moran describes her journalism as ‘pointing at things‘. Those might be things she likes, in which case she is gloriously, endearingly fangirlish about them (Doctor Who; Aberystwyth); or they might be serious issues that she deals with, very acutely, by revealing how fundamentally ridiculous it is that the world should be like this (poverty; mental health cuts). It’s actually when she’s being serious that her writing is most beautiful, as she tries to convey why she believes libraries are so important, offers up an obituary to Amy Winehouse, or shows us how a certain place has witnessed a series of different vignettes in her life. Cleverly tucked in among the more light-hearted columns, these pieces have the ability to tug unexpectedly on the heart strings you’d put to one side, not intending to use.
A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer but a citizen instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff’. A mall – the shops – are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead.
However, what lingers in the memory is Moran’s slightly maniacal, gleeful lust for life. Her transcripts of her night-time conversations with her long-suffering husband Pete are prime examples of this (‘Call Me Puffin’ is my favourite). As I said of How To Be A Woman, what I most enjoy about her writing is that she’s so open about her hopes, her fears and her beliefs, and she doesn’t really give a damn whether you agree with her or not, but will politely and persistently keep to her principles. She doesn’t have a niche that she’s trying to fit into; she’s not tailoring her ideas to any particular social or particular formula: she’s just having a ball following her own convictions and doing things her way.
Her energy sparks through her writing, as she embarks on sweeping metaphors so rich and involved that they almost take on a life of their own. For example, in describing the hormonal upheaval of the menstrual cycle, she likens it rather fabulously to ‘a circus that’s on fire … [with] clowns jumping out of windows, and crying seals everywhere‘. Yes, on one level it’s totally barmy and makes no sense, but on the other hand I do rather see what she means. She is articulate on the subject of exactly how to describe Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice: one moment it’s ‘like someone smoking a cigar inside a grand piano‘ and, at another, ‘like a jaguar in a cello‘. And, in a stroke of genius, she manages to interview Keith Richards on Talk Like A Pirate Day, musing that he
has the air of a rakish gentleman forced to steal a frigate and abscond from polite society – due to some regrettable misunderstanding about a virgin daughter, a treasure map and a now-smouldering Admiralty building.
If you haven’t yet read any Moran, this is a great place to start. You can dip in and out very easily, because the pieces are so compact, and since it’s not quite as outrageous as some parts of How To Be A Woman, there’s less chance of you alarming fellow commuters with sudden sniggering. One thing to be aware of is that the choice of subjects is very much skewed towards British politics, culture and humour – which suits me perfectly, of course, because I can thoroughly relate to Moran’s comments on the London lifestyle, but it may be that non-British readers might sometimes miss out on some of the references. But even so I’d urge you to give it a go.
The best thing about Moran’s attitude to life is that she accepts that some bad things happen – things which are crazy, blinkered, bigoted or simply daft – but, fundamentally, she believes that life is to be savoured and her book, as she describes it, is ‘a manifesto for joy’. For me, anyway, it succeeds with flying colours.
This is the best world we have – because it’s the only world we have. It’s the simplest maths ever. However many terrible, rankling, peeve-inducing things may occur, there are always libraries. And rain-falling-on-sea. And the Moon. And love. There is always something to look back on, with satisfaction, or forward to, with joy. There is always a moment where you boggle at the world – at yourself – at the whole unlikely, precarious business of being alive – and then start laughing.
I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.