Books of the Week: More Than a Woman, Featherhood, Just Like You
New titles from Caitlin Moran, Charlie Gilmour and Nick Hornby are this week’s must-reads
This week’s three must-read books include Caitlin Moran’s “older, wiser follow-up” to How to Be a Woman, Charlie Gilmour’s “clear-eyed” memoir of nurturing and self-discovery, and an “engaging” tale of social mores from Nick Hornby.
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Book of the week More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (2011) established her as a “gloriously unorthodox role model for hundreds of thousands of women”, said Christina Patterson in The Sunday Times. A feminist handbook that didn’t take itself too seriously, it sold more than a million copies – and prompted a slew of similar books. Nine years on, Moran, now in her mid-40s, has produced an “older, wiser follow-up”, this time addressing middle age. In a prologue, she imagines visiting her “breezily confident” younger self, and warning her that, while she thinks she’s “worked out all her shit”, things are, in fact, going to get much tougher. This is because, while being young is about dealing with your own problems, middle age forces you to sort out everyone else’s. “Your life”, present-day Moran warns, “is about to become a call centre for people who are exploding.”
The book that follows is “built around a day in Moran’s life”, with chapters “carved up into specific themes”, said Fiona Sturges in The Guardian. In The Hour of Physical Acceptance, she reflects on her ageing body, with its “Womble-nose breasts” and hips and thighs like “the Malvern Hills”. In The Hour of Married Sex, she gives a blow-by-blow account of a morning “Maintenance Shag” – the shag “middle-aged people have to schedule because they’re so busy” – with her husband. At times, the structure seems forced, said Holly Williams in The Observer. A chapter discussing how gender stereotypes harm men hardly seems “a cornerstone of anyone’s day-to-day life”. Yet overall, this book is just as “funny, life-affirming and wise” as its predecessor. Few can rival Moran’s knack for “describing common yet unnamed experiences” –like her frustration that no one else understands the Stairs System. (Take the stuff at the bottom up with you! Bring stuff at the top down! “It’s perfectly simple!”)
Although billed as “24 hours in the life of the average middle-aged woman”, More Than a Woman is “really a book about love”, said Sarah Ditum in The Times. This emerges most strongly in sections dealing with her daughter Nancy (a pseudonym), who has had a serious eating disorder. Here, Moran perfectly captures the “horror and hope of being an onlooker to your child’s breakdown”. If the book has a fault, it’s that it is trying to be too many things: as well as being a “drop-dead funny” account of life in your 40s, it’s also a memoir, a feminist analysis and a call to arms. “But then, isn’t the middle-aged woman’s ultimate predicament that she’s trying to do too many things at once?”
Ebury 288pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99
Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour
In 2010, Charlie Gilmour (the adopted son of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour), who was then a Cambridge student, “went on a drug-fuelled rampage and climbed the Cenotaph during a student protest”, said Helen Brown in The Daily Telegraph. The episode earned him national notoriety, and a four-month spell in prison. In his “excellent” and “clear-eyed” memoir, Gilmour explores the “turbulent emotions” that caused him to go “off the rails” – and describes how raising a baby magpie helped him recover his sanity. Much of the book is concerned with Gilmour’s search for his biological father, the eccentric poet Heathcote Williams, said Ginny Dougary in the Daily Mail. Williams, an alcoholic Old Etonian anarchist, emerges as a “fascinating”, but “repellent” figure – someone who abandoned his son as a baby (when he walked out on Gilmour’s mother, Polly Samson), and then repeatedly rebuffed his only son’s attempts to contact him. “Heathcote would agree to meet his son, then disappear, blanking his child for years at a time.”
But the book is a story of redemption and self-discovery, as well as of loss, said Helen Davies in The Sunday Times. In Gilmour’s case, this comes courtesy of the “shit-dropping, feather-moulting talking magpie” that he and his girlfriend take into their south London home. Their relationship with the bird is “more than a little odd”: at first they feed it on grubs and worms, later on “strips of beef and scrambled eggs”; it sleeps above them on a branch, and soon their bed is a mass of droppings. Yet nurturing the bird enables Gilmour to “come to terms with his childhood”, and prepares him for becoming a father himself. Featherhood is “sincere and searing”: a “work of magpie investigation that ranks among the best modern coming-of-age memoirs”.
W&N 288pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99
Novel of the week Just Like You by Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby’s latest novel centres on a love affair between Joseph, a working-class black man in his early 20s, and 42-year-old Lucy, a white English teacher, said Sam Leith in The Observer. The pair meet when Lucy employs Joseph as a babysitter; they are soon inhabiting a romantic “bubble” based around sex and watching The Sopranos. Soon, however, their “differences” cause tension: a neighbour calls the police after spotting a black youth “loitering” on Lucy’s doorstep; Joseph is “mortified” by the way Lucy “toe-taps along” to his dance track. “Hornby is surefooted around all these issues” – and the result is “funny” and “engaging”.
Hornby is a skilled scrutiniser of “social mores”, said Claire Allfree in the London Evening Standard. But his writing these days is becoming “flabbier”, and here he’s also prone to the “literary equivalent of dad dancing”, with several embarrassing “lapses into urban slang”. While it’s “bold” of him, in the current climate, to have written so much of his novel from the perspective of a young black character, I’m not sure he’s really “any good at it”.
Viking 320pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99