This is a double review of two works by British columnist, Caitlin Moran. Moran currently writes three different columns on television, pop culture, and the cult of celebrity for UK paper, The Times.
Moranthology is a collection of her award winning columns, published for the enjoyment of us American readers. The strength of this essay collection is the wide range of subjects Moran touches on. It seems like she could, quite literally, go off on a tangent about anything. A number of the essays focus on popular British culture that is equally popular in the U.S. (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Downton Abbey). She manages to discuss these topics with a hilarious combination of outright fan-girl admiration and biting sarcasm. She strikes a balance between her entries on topics like Lady Gaga and the aforementioned television shows and those on parenting and growing up poor in the city of Wolverhampton. I also have to mention that she pretty much had me at the essay entitled, “Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls.”
The main criticism I have with Moran’s collection is that most of the essays are very short, sometimes only clocking in at two pages. I enjoy her style of writing and brand of humor, so I wanted her to discuss bad fashion and coffee at a greater length. Moranthology also lacks any greater narrative or chronological cohesion which, in this short form style, doesn’t necessarily matter. However, I was occasionally curious when certain events were occurring in her life; but without any entry dates, I just had to let it go. She does attempt to link the sections with a series of late night conversations held with her half asleep husband (much to his chagrin), but don’t hold out for any thematic organization. This is why I was looking forward to reading her memoir, How to Be a Woman, which I did immediately after finishing Moranthology.
In How to Be a Woman, Moran tackles a variety of issues girls and women face (puberty, first love, sexism, feminism). The inherent structure of the memoir gives her the opportunity to elaborate more extensively than in Moranthology. I found the strongest parts of How to Be a Woman were Moran’s stories of growing up in a small house with a large family. She had a love/hate relationship with her younger sister Caz (with whom she shared a bed) as an adolescent and opens the book recalling (with trademark self-deprecating style) a number of conversations they had; primarily about various parts of their bodies. In fact, the first 60 pages are pretty much about this. But don’t let that be a reason to shy away from this book; it’s a great blend of embarrassing yet sidesplittingly funny tales of childhood (and sometimes adulthood) and an honest portrait of the challenges of womanhood.
There is some overlap in stories with the two books and the narrower point of view of How to Be a Woman means it is less likely to appeal to as diverse of an audience. Additionally, the narrative isn’t as tight from chapter to chapter as I would have hoped, but that wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment at all.
Cover blurbs on both books insist Moran is the UK’s answer to Tina Fey; while I also loved Bossypants and there are definitely some similarities in their subjects of work and family, I think Moran’s tone is closer to that of Chelsea Handler. Moran’s humor is definitely more sharp and biting than Fey’s and she has a greater proclivity to speak frankly about sex. In that case, I would also recommend Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea or Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.