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.

IMG_7207.JPG

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?

Advertisements