The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde // How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

The Eyre Affair:

“There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of ‘Jane Eyre’. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary – and a woman called Thursday Next.”

I felt like it took 300 pages to start. Admittedly, quite a bit happened in those first 300 pages, but since it was titled “The Eyre Affair” and not “A History of Alternative England, 1985”, I sort of expected Jane Eyre to show up earlier. But I can forgive that. Eventually.

What really bothered me – and this is a personal peeve so I understand that not everyone feels this way – was the narrative style. It was supposedly first person from Thursday’s POV, but it kept switching – sometimes within a single chapter – so that it was third-person-but-still-Thursday, describing another situation. Confused? Me too.

Basically, every so often, you read about what was happening to Thursday’s uncle Mycroft, presumably from his POV, but with the occasional interjection from Thursday herself. There were also moments where tertiary and whatever-is-past-tertiary characters give voice to their inner monologues, even though we’re still reading the story from Thursday’s POV and you can’t possibly know what those characters are thinking/feeling because she is not, in fact, that particular person at that particular time.

Oh, and the chapter where she was interviewed about her mission-gone-wrong, and managed to recount it word-for-word, complete with dialogue and action tags? That’s the complete opposite of “show, don’t tell”. And didn’t really add additional plot information, so it wasn’t really necessary to do it that way.

Also, I didn’t really buy the Thursday-Landen relationship and didn’t like how it was resolved so quickly, though it was definitely just a side-plot.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I loved picking out the literary allusions and I absolutely loved the names: Acheron (and his brother Styx) Hades, Braxton Hicks, Millon de Floss (Mill on the Floss), among others. There were some genuinely funny scenes and one-liners; my favourite exchange was when the bartender at the Cheshire Cat (dressed like a hatter, obviously), greeted Thursday with “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” and she replied, “Because Poe wrote on both?”. Genius!

I had such high hopes for this book but I just wasn’t feeling it.

How to Build a Girl:

“What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes-and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde-fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?”

I don’t mean to brag (okay, maybe I do, a little), but I had the pleasure of meeting Caitlin Moran and getting my book signed (the perks of being a publishing intern!), and I’m glad to report that she is delightful, irreverent, hilarious, and a good hugger.

Apparently there are parts of the book, her first novel, that are semi-autobiographical. When I talk to her, I said that the part about Johanna’s first show – particularly her first experience of a mosh pit – was the most realistic description of a concert I’ve ever read, and she explained that it was an almost word-for-word account of her first time at a show (I read the exclusive NPR excerpt about few days before meeting Caitlin).

I, of course, read it with a British accent (in my head, obviously), because it’s very easy to fall into that trap, what with all the slang and whatnot. Here’s one thing I learned: British people are very free with their cussing. Which I actually find hilarious, but I can imagine that other people would be offended by the amount of f-bombs and c-words.

Because it takes place in a time before/during which I was born (and in a country literally across the world), I can’t relate to Johanna’s experiences of growing up impoverished in Wolverhampton. What I can relate to, however, is the desire – the need – to reinvent yourself. To be tired of the person you are and to try to figure out who you want to be.

I’ve never done as extreme a reinvention as Johanna but I like to think that I became more myself in university (and beyond) compared to how I was in high school. I wish I had had half of Johanna’s confidence as a teenager.

And when Johanna realizes that she doesn’t like the person she’s become, it’s oddly empowering to see her make the decision to reinvent herself again. She starts out being someone she doesn’t like, turns herself into someone she thinks she wants to be, and ends by transforming herself into the person she knows she’s meant to be. It’s feminism at its base form – being comfortable with who you are as a woman without compromising your ideals or dreams. I can’t claim to be an expert at Wolverhampton council estates in the early nineties, but I’m pretty sure that was a difficult thing to accomplish – so if Johanna/Caitlin even started on that path, that’s pretty impressive.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about:

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