Caitlin Moran (2012) How To Be a Woman.

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How To Be a Woman has Caitlin Moran on the front cover surrounded by a proscenium arch of accolades. ‘Galaxy Book Awards Book of the Year.’ ‘Funniest Book of the Year,’ Evening Standard. ‘The book EVERY woman should read,’ Grazia. Well, I’m at a disadvantage here because I’ve read it and I’m a guy, or at least like to think so. I’m normal that way, obviously when you’re lying in bed, you’ve had sex with someone you don’t know very well, and she leaves her diary and Cosmopolitan lying about you read the diary first and the magazine later, because when she come back from the toilet she’ll be pissed off at you reading her diary. This is that diary. And it took her 36 years to live and six months to write the 312 pages, with a bit of help from friends and family.

But for me it’s strangely familiar. Most folk on ABCtales also know Sooz, who published her diary there, a year block at a time and that would be about 100 000 words. The term more honest than was good for her applied to Sooz. She told you about her father raping her, her husband’s grandmother stealing her son and bringing him up as her own, her life in a home and in a Women’s Aid hostel,  the many disasters of everyday life as a caring district nurse and trying to bring up a son that other kids bully. It would take me 312 pages just to scratch parts of her life, but let’s just say it was interesting. Is interesting. Her diaries are out there, but some troll she hooked up with set out to destroy her and her writing. He largely succeeded. Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman is the success story she never had but deserved.

Let’s look at Moran’s prescription in the postscript.

‘Anyway, by sixteen, I had a new idea. I didn’t want to be a princess. Princes were dull. It was all about the artists instead…I wanted to be a muse… WRITE A SONG ABOUT A GOBBY BIRD! WRITE A SONG ABOUT MEEEEEEEEE YOU FUCK!

‘18th birthday, not a muse, not a princess…Just “being” me isn’t enough. I’m going to have to do something, instead…Simply being honest about who we really are is half the battle.’

‘I don’t want men to go away. I don’t want men to stop what they’re doing. What I want, instead, are some radical market forces…I want women to have more of the world, not just because it would be fairer, but because it would be better.’

There is nothing Caitlin Moran writes about that I disagree with. She is particularly good on ‘I am Fat’. Fat is functional in the way that other vices are not. People that think of lunch while eating breakfast and snacking in between breakfast and lunch because the world is such a boring place to be and hey, Marlon Brando was fat and it never did him any harm. But there’s a hierarchy of addictions, just the same as there is a hierarchy of HIV sufferers, those that get the virus from contaminated blood products deserve to live, all other AID sufferers can rot in hell. In the same way she contrasts ROCK’ N’ROLL (she has an addiction to capital letters for emphasis) and the Stones.

‘Imagine’ she says, ‘if instead of taking herion – Keef had started overeating and got really fat instead. If he’d really got into spaghetti bolognese, say, or kept coming on stage holding foot-long Subway Meatballs.’ Instead of being a junkie he was a fattie. My guess is a fat stone cannot roll. They’d get rid of him sharpish. It reminds me a bit of a character in one of Jane Godley’s sketches, shouting ‘c’mere ya fat cunt to a mentor yeh’.

I also like Moran’s take on women that spend thousands of pounds on plastic bodies and faces. The world would be a so much better place if somebody instead of saying I’ve spent £500 on botox for my forehead, said I’ve taken £500 out of the cash machine and gave it that wee guy sitting on the park bench. You should have seen his smile. I’m still waiting for a Scottish Socialist Republican Scotland. Dream on. I like How To Be a Woman, but whisper it I watched three minutes of Raised by Wolves and it aged me, you know how much botox that’s going to cost me?

 

 

John Updike (2000 [2003]) Great Loves. The Women Who Got Away.

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This is a book of five short stories – Natural Color, New York Girl, Licks of Love in the Heart of the Cold War, The Women Who Got Away and Transaction –  about man’s priapic need to love women, come what may and whatever the cost to existing marriages or children. A man that thinks with his dick is a man I can believe in. And I ask myself a simple question is this a true story or not? If I’m not really sure whether it’s fact or fiction then the stories are coins of true worth. I guess there’s every kind of women here, but only one kind of man.

Eddie Chester, for example, in Licks of Love in the Heart of the Cold War is a banjo player from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (which reminds me of the Laurel and Hardy sketch). He’s hitched a gig on a cultural exchange programme during the Khrushchev era of 1964 and during a briefing in Washington he meets up with Imogene, ‘one of the receptionists a little black haired coffee-fetcher from that afternoon’s briefing came up to me as if her breasts were being offered on a tray.’  It seems like bad manners to resist and like the other narrators being away from home and children means different rules apply. Imogene, Eddie finds, is an easy lay.

I like to press my face into a girlfriend’s nether soul, to taste the waters that we must all swim out to the light. I strove to keep my manly focus, amid the juggling caused by government-issue alcohol, my wondering what time it was, the jostling of my conscience…

In other words they have sex or make love. And that become Eddie’s problem. He sees it as the former and she regards it as the latter – flooding the diplomatic pouches with her missives and plans which follow Eddie from Moscow to the Caucasus.  Eddie’s not an unreasonable man. He just wants to be left alone and he’s got a bit of a thing for Nadia his KGB, translator.

There would be a moment, towards the end of a long public day in, say Tashkent, when her English would deteriorate, just shy of weariness from drawing on a double set of brain cells, and her eyelids and the tip of her long white nose would get pink…and she would give me the handshake, not the palm and meat of the thumb, but four cool fingers, aligned like a sergeant’s stripes.

The narrator is a man that loves women as does, I suspect the author, who has a propensity for it seems for long white noses and hiding from former beaus in shop doorways. Jane, the New York Girl,  for example, is an artist and a bit of a klutz, ‘with a bony face, high cheekbones and powdered over freckles, seemed a little tugged to the one side.’ Stan travels  Route 17 to New York on the train, leaving his wife and kids behind, to measure up her art for the aluminium frames he installs. He’s shy, but she’s got his measure and he’s got hers. They have a working affair. When he’s working in New York, she meets him and gets a baby sitter for her boy.

Updike is good at when sex becomes love and usually the kick is the narrator looking back with regret and the high of nostalgia for what had been and what could have been. The past is the future in reverse. Yeh, I get that. It’s a man’s world that is constantly expanding, but the choices for women, well, that’s a different story. Try Elena Ferrante for that one. Or if you stick your hands over your ears for the over-exuberant rant try Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman.