What Kind of Girl, Exactly? A Review of Lena Dunham’s Memoir

…In which our blogger discovers the holy grail of TMI; struggles to form an opinion; the resulting review probably makes no sense…

Also WARNING: I think I’ve mentioned on here somewhere that I am a huge fan of children’s fiction and YA novels, but I just wanted to make it clear that Not That Kind Of Girl, and by extension this review, is not suitable for children.

“If I could take what I’ve learned and make one mental job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile.”

I don’t know what to tell you about Not That Kind Of Girl. Honestly, I have mixed opinions, so I have just written how I felt – please bear in mind that I still wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who hasn’t yet read it.

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I was pretty excited to read this book because it was not only recommended to me personally as a piece of feminist writing, but revered as (I quote this from the back cover of the book) ‘To a generation of girls, she [Lena Dunham] is the thing. The very thing. The absolute thing.’ Big boots to fill.

Unquestionably, Lena Dunham’s writing is brilliant. I started reading this book when I picked it up from a friend’s bookshelf. Instantly, it felt like Dunham’s prose started a conversation with me, and this was so absorbing that I borrowed the book from the library as soon as I got home. I even laughed out loud several times the one night I stayed up to finish the whole book. A book rarely makes me laugh out loud.

This being said, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. It’s not that I found Lena’s account problematic exactly (although I can see how people feel that way). The problem was more the fact that the narrative was really, well… annoying.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Girls, but the main character, Hannah Horvath is noted for being self-centred. In interviews, Lena has always distanced herself from Hannah, saying that Girls is in no way autobiographical (although this has been disputed). However, on page 135 Lena admits ‘I can be very self involved’. In my opinion, it seems as if the book is written from the point of view of Hannah Horvath. I can cope with this as a piece of fiction, but as a memoir it causes me to feel slightly exasperated. Are her stories supposed come across as self-aware because she honestly admits that she cried when her sister told her she was gay, that she insisted that a girl she knew at college was pretending to be gay, and that she (possibly?????) sexually abused her sister, among other things? (Also, I won’t spoil anything, but for those of you who have read this part – wtf is up with ‘Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/ Angrier/ Braver’?! Startlingly childish.) However, my initial thoughts were that the narrative lacked self-awareness. This can get irritating.

I’m sorry for how up-and-down this review is. I just can’t seem to grasp at an opinion of this book.

I have criticised the book for lacking self-awareness. Somehow, at the same time, I still feel Lena’s writing can be inspiringly self-aware:

“I’m an unreliable narrator.

Because I add an invented detail to almost every story I tell about my mother. Because my sister claims every memory we “share” has been fabricated by me to impress a crowd. Because I get “sick” a lot. Because I use the same low “duhhh” voice for every guy I’ve ever known.”

Perhaps Dunham’s book generates this kind of criticism because it is analysed in the same way we might analyse a self-help book. The front cover with its bold typography is clearly a parody of this kind of genre. As I neared the end of this memoir, I felt increasingly frustrated that Lena doesn’t seem to learn anything. She continues to be self-absorbed and doesn’t seem empathetic to the other people in the stories she tells. Despite what she says in the introduction – I can’t help but feel like maybe this is the point. A block of text on front cover surmises the book: ‘A young woman tells you what she’s “learned”.’ Perhaps this is the reason that learned is in inverted commas. You can’t learn anything from anybody else’s experiences. I find that refreshing. This brings me to an extract I liked:

“What was it that I couldn’t understand and how I could I understand it, short of moving to a war-torn nation? I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had experiences to gain, things to learn […] The secrets of life aren’t being revealed when someone laughs at you for having studied creative writing. There is no enlightenment to be gained from letting your semiboyfriend’s bald friend touch your thigh too close to the place where it meets your crotch, but you let it happen because you think it might be love.”

Sorry to continue being so up-and-down, but I’ve just got to add before I finish this, that it is still definitely a valid point to say that unfortunately, the annoying-ness of this book interrupts the book and spoils it a bit. The most annoying aspect, I forgot to say, is the title. Not what kind of girl? What is she implying? I hope that this is intended in an ironic way, because it comes across as judgmental and misogynistic.

Okay! I’ve said everything I think about Not That Kind Of Girl. I think you should read it even if you end up hating it because it is so rich and so relevant. I’m not even going to attempt to rate it out of 5 until I’ve thought about it for at least another week.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about this book. What did you think? Did you find it annoying?

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The Liebster Award

…In which our heroine feels suitably chuffed with her nomination; ramblings in some form of answers to questions; nominations are made…

Firstly, thank you My Red Page for nominating me for this award. I had so much fun doing this.

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If you’re interested in cooking, films or fashion you should read My Red Page. Personally, I really enjoy Julia’s photography – go and check it out!

Anyway, here are the rules:

– Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.

– Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.

– Nominate 10 other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.

– Ensure all of these bloggers have less than 200 followers.

– Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make ten questions of your own for your nominees.

– Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.

These are my (attempted) answer’s to Julia’s questions:

1) Why do you blog?

Blogging seems to combine many of the things I would like to get out of life: meeting likeminded people, writing, and challenging myself.

2) What are the first five words that describe you?

Hmm… I would have to say: Curious, emotional, sensitive, enthusiastic and friendly.

3) What is that you always wanted but never got?

I seem to be on a permanent diet but also forever gaining weight (sigh). It’s probably something to do with all the midnight pizza binges. One day!

4) Did you ever danced in the rain? Would you?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a music festival in England but I have a few times and it is basically 80% dancing in the rain and 20% finding somewhere not soggy to sleep.

5) How is your perfect pizza look like?

OMG. My only requirement is garlic butter – I have been known to order triple garlic butter from Domino’s before. I’m not even ashamed.

6) What was the last picture you took?

This one:

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I was just trying some things out for my next blog post.

7) What is your motto in life?

I don’t have a motto. If I did I would find it hard to stick to – like Alice said, ‘I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.’ (Lewis Carroll). I have, however, noticed a kind of internal repetition of ‘never mind, never mind,’ that I think my brain likes to regurgitate in times of panic. Does ‘never mind’ qualify as a life motto?

8) What is the best book you ever read?

It has taken me three days to post this because I have been stuck on this question. I CAN’T ANSWER THIS QUESTION.

9) What is the simplest thing that makes you smile?

I like wrapping presents, I don’t know why. How cute is this?

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10) Best compliment you’ve received?

A pregnant woman once told me I was beautiful on a train. (By that I mean the place that she said this was on a train. She didn’t say ‘You are beautiful on a train’)

And these are my questions for you:

1) How do you feel that blogging has changed you?

2) Ok, Fictional Book Character Snog Marry Avoid: Ron Weasley, Hamlet, Heathcliff???

3) What is your favourite blog and why?

4) If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be and why?

5) Would you ever break the law?

6) Is it better to try and fail or to never have tried at all?

7) Try to describe yourself using only song lyrics.

8) If you had one message you could deliver to everyone in the world, what would it say?

9) What have you learned from your mistakes?

10) What is your best piece of blogging advice?

Finally, these are the 10 blogs I have nominated: (apologies but I’m still finding my way around wordpress and I can’t tell who has or hasn’t got less than 200 followers so I was forced to ignore these rules. If anybody would like to enlighten me it would be much appreciated)
1. Love, Taylor J
2. Glitterbloodedwords
3. Susanrushton.net
4. My Little Book Blog
5. Jabrushblog
6. XingSings
7. Literary Ramblings Etc
8. Lioness Blogger
9. Black Tea and Milk
10. My Red Page (sorry Julia to nominate you for the third time – I would love to see your answers to my questions!)

Can You Sell A Country? The Atom Station Review

This is my first book review and the first book I have read for the around the world reading challenge. Icelandic writer, Halldór Laxness is the only Icelandic Nobel Laureate, having won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1955 for his sixty novels. The Atom Station is one of them…

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Ulga is a country girl from the North and The Atom Station is the tale of her experience as a maid in the house of a politician. Somewhere inbetween a political satire and a coming of age novel, Laxness’s story revolves around the themes of corruption, westernisation and the preservation of traditional Icelandic values. Personally, I found parts of The Atom Station quite amusing, but I’m not sure whether I found it amusing enough to warrant being classed as a ‘satire’. Although, I understand that the irony mostly relies on knowledge of the context, which I don’t claim to have. This book would not be wasted on anyone with an interest in Icelandic history or politics. However, parts of the book resonate with anyone who knows anything about the nature of politicians. They did with me anyway…

“But he turned on his heel in the middle of the hall on his way up and continued his monologue: ‘As I was saying, you can always depend on him absolutely: If he swears something to you in confidence when he is sober, and pledges it on his honour, you can be quite sure that he is lying. If he swears it thrice in public on his mother’s name, then, quite simply, he means exactly the opposite of what he is swearing. But what he says when he is tipsy he really means, even though he swears it.'”

One of Laxness’s strengths is his characterisation. He has the ability to sum up a character just through his description of how they first appear to us in the book. Ulga is a real treat of a narrator. She is witty, curious and bold. I think if the character of Ulga hadn’t been as strong and quirky I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Atom Station quite so much. Parts of it were very heavy on philosophy and politics, which felt overwhelming and almost obnoxious, actually. The distinct preference for Communism and the Communist characters cannot be ignored. However the parodies Laxness paints of the various social groups (the upper class families, the old-fashioned farmers, the overdramatic modernist guests at the organ player’s house) were insightful and, at times, hilarious. I particularly enjoyed Ulga’s account of the spoilt family for whom she worked…

“‘I will, I will, I will go to America.’

In the middle of the floor of the study this beautiful, sleek woman lay on her back, her skirt up around her waist, wearing nylon stockings, silk panties and gilt shoes, belabouring the floor with her heels and fists and screaming, her bracelets jingling with the blows and one gilt shoe flying across the room.

Her husband stood at a distance, watching, wearing a surprised and helpless look; yet I suspect he had seen such a performance before and was not particularly amazed.”

Ultimately, The Atom Station was thought provoking and incredibly readable, although not unputdownable. At just 180 pages, I managed to read the whole thing over two two-hour train journeys. While I would not say that this was one of my favourite books, or that it moved me emotionally, I would recommend it to anybody as an insightful and unusual novel that is fun to read.  I’ve never read any Icelandic Literature before so if anybody else has read anything Icelandic or has any thoughts about this I’d love to hear about it!

Hi

… In which our novice blogger contemplates the innumerable possibilities of introducing herself; the conundrum of whether to incorporate or omit the dubious ‘OMG this is my first ever blog post LOL’; other matters…

I’m Helen and I’m a 20 year old English and Philosophy Student. Since removing myself from the world of social media, I’ve been trying to find a creative outlet to fill all of this spare time I suddenly have.

I know, she thought, let’s join a newspaper. I thought I’d write online for the Tab but it didn’t really work out. I ended up writing the world’s naffest article on the incredibly original subject of the walk of shame. The research for this somehow escalated into me and my best friend getting drunk at 9 o clock in the morning and going into McDonald’s with neon green UV paint all over our grinning, goofy faces. I decided to scrap this. Then, after not actually submitting anything for two weeks I was hilariously awarded a cream egg for being the Tab’s most ‘illusive writer’ at their end of term meal.

I am more optimistic about this blog. Instead of writing about cool, edgy-type things us students are supposed to be interested in, like walks of shame (which I couldn’t really comment on anyway if I’m honest, the one time I did a kind of walk of shame was when I was 15 and my sandal strap snapped the morning I was walking home after staying at my friend’s. I did get one evil eye from a neighbor washing his car but overall it wasn’t too bad, one nice lady even wished me a good morning. I can’t see what all the fuss is about), I will probably be writing about things I’m reading, literature, really bad word jokes and what it’s actually like to be a student: the ever oppressing plight of paying to print out your work. Less one night stands, more book stands.