How to be Famous

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

Hilarious and full of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, this book will make you laugh and (if you're like me and had a far more innocent adolescence than our heroine Johanna) cringe a little, but ultimately it has a lot to say about young women, liberation, sexual politics and equality.  While set in the Brit-pop era of the 1990s, there is a lot of resonance for contemporary young women against the backdrop of the #metoo movement. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC.
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I was expecting 'How to be Famous' to be a vivid flashback to my teenage years in 1995. And it really is, but it's also much more than I expected. The book is raw and aggressive in the best possible way. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll wrapped up in a funny yet brutally honest book.
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Caitlin Moran is one of the most important, feminist voices of our time. Her books should be added to the national curriculum, she is current, relevant and has so much to teach us
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No-one told me this was a sequel…

So I went into this book without any clue of what had come before. There’s a character in the book who jumps into conversations as if introductions have already been made and that’s how I felt reading this book without knowing of what came before. But that’s in retrospect. Because I actually just thought the family call backs were what they were, people who know each other so well and make assumptions about how well people listen. I swear I have a colleague who talks about people by name and I have no idea who she is talking about. It could be a sister or a friend or just a random. But I smile and forget that I have no idea who this person is, I just enjoy the story. And what a well written story it is.

One thing that I find difficult with this story is basically it is set in a time when I (in my actual life) was the same age as the main character. I had the same interests and was living a grown up life as basically an overgrown child. But she was so confident and successful and able in a way that I wonder if I could ever have been. I don’t think so, which is not to talk myself down but more to look at this character as a bit of an ingenue. Not a manic pixie dream girl, a girl who makes mistakes but seems to come out unscathed. Which, with her abilities, sure why not.

I do think that the story line is probably a decade before the feeling of the time. Or maybe that’s how long the feeling took to spread from London. It’s funny but the last three reads that I have reviewed have most definitely had a feminist message (one I haven’t yet reviewed on this blog – The Whisper Network is coming). Completely coincidental if I’m honest – just the top three books in the digital pile. Which I’m working through fairly rapidly this week. But I think the messages within are so important. This story is very good at unmasking the patriarchal structures in place and how easy it is to disregard what a woman says and, most importantly, how she acts. Because there are parts of this story where it is clear (or should be if anyone was interested in noticing) that actions can speak louder than words.

I enjoyed this book. I would warn it is full of swears (which I love but I know some don’t).

I received a copy of this egalley from the publisher, through Netgalley.
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"How To Be Famous" is a riotous romp through '90s London and a thrilling nostalgia ride for those of us of a certain age. I love Caitlin Moran's natural, conversational tone and abundant humour, her IDGAF attitude. She makes me wish I could start my adult life over again. Words cannot express how much I loved everything about this book. I shall cherish it forever and read it many times more.
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Sequel to How to Build a Girl, this is the book you wish you'd come across when you were leaving school (and your teens), about to embark on the adult stage of your life with barely any experience of living without a list of instructions. 
It isn't pretty, or fanciful, or full of rainbows.  What it is is good advice/messages staged as humour using incredibly awkward and embarrassing scenarios to make its point.
There are times when I cringed, others when I whooped, fist punching the air.
Interested to see what the last in the series will bring about.
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I'm not sure I really expected to enjoy this book. I thought it might be a bit smart arsed, sassy and in your face but it's actually really good. Although it might parallel elements of Caitlin Moran's life, it's clearly a work of fiction about a nineteen-year-old called Joanne Morrigan living in London in the 1980s and writing for the music press while trying, as the title suggests, to be 'famous'. This requires her to change her name to Dolly Wilde as well!

She doesn't always end up being famous in quite the right way after becoming involved with a sleazy comedian who ends up trying to ruin her reputation with a dodgy videotape. It is also made difficult because she is in love with John Kite, an emerging Welsh rock star who is himself climbing the ladder to fame.

Her family are just about on the right side of feasible with her ghastly dad who is having his own midlife crisis as Joanna seeks fame. The observations on the family are spot-on and funny. There is also a fair bit about the problems faced by women in the music industry which are best described as dire, there's a nice guy called Zee trying to set up his own record label with a girl group called The Branks who behave pretty badly just for balance as well.

There are plenty of asides about Britpop and the culture of the time and plenty about what it's like to be young and female and the book gets quite serious talking about groupies and fans but it is an interesting perspective. The other thing to say about Joanna, or Dolly, is that she is really quite respectable, keeping away from cocaine and not really having all that much sex and debauchery apart from the drink!

Anyway, after all these bumpy rides, Joanna finds true love with John Kite, her dad goes back home to live, The Branks have a hit record and everything turns out for the best. It's a bit of a managed happy ending but why not? And, at the end of it all, it's quite a witty read and it raised my opinion of Caitlin Moran to a new level!
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I'm not sure what to make of this book. It reads like the diary of a teenager back in the 90s, which I suppose it is. So from that point of view it should have resonated with me as I was one of those too back in the day – female, weird, not-cool, gig-going lover of Doc Martens, however I just wasn’t gripped by the storyline. I’ve read a couple of the author’s non-fiction titles and couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but thought I’d give her fiction a go. Sorry, it’s not for me although I know it’ll be hugely popular.
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I didn't overly enjoy this book (which is a shame as I am a massive Caitlin Moran fan) - it is an average book.
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Whilst this book was engaging, witty and easy to read I couldn't help but feel I was being 'taught at' by the author. 
The story was quite lean it felt in order to give the author more room to talk about issues she is passionate about, which of course is absolutely great but this meant the book didn't feel like fiction. Especially if you know the author's real story which is basically the story of Dolly in this book. Taking that into account the descriptions of Dolly as 'a genius' and 'the next big thing' etc jarred a little because I couldn't help but feel the author was talking about herself!
Sometimes it felt like it was trying to be a bit too clever and the plot suffered for it as we were taken off into another essay that explained how we should feel about certain things or described absolutely the way things should be. 
Still as I say very easy to read, and fun - especially because I too used to live in Camden so it was great to remember the area - but this for me was basically the author's non-fiction books trying to be fiction and so didn't quite work.
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The prequel to this, How To Build A Girl, was a surprise hit with me back in 2015 when I read it and I didn't even realise a sequel was out until it popped up on Netgalley! This novel brings us back to Johanna but in a very different environment; gone is the family dynamic (she barely even mentions her family from back home) and here instead is the big city, rock-n-roll lifestyle, all told from Johanna's quirky, unique point of view. You don't need to have read the first novel before this one; just enjoy being thrown into Johanna's wild, young, 90s British lifestyle.

My favourite thing about is book is probably how this author captures the era. I was only a child in the 90s but reading this gave me a slice of the life and culture. In a rant about Britpop culture she explains "In a reaction to the cold rains and angry storm-front songs of America North-West grunge, they are about the simple brilliance of life in Britain; football in the park, booze in the sun, riding a bike, smoking a fag, fry-ups in a cafe, dancing at a wedding in a working men's club, playing a new record over and over again, getting pissed on a Friday, getting loaded on a Saturday, hugging your friends as the sun comes up on a Sunday morning. They have turned everyday life into a jubilee. They have reminded us that life is - above everything else - a party." And, in its own way, this book does too.

While there's laugh-out-loud moments, this book tackles some tough topics too, from the Me Too movement to the dangers of too much fame and excess, alcholism and drug abuse. There's a fine line between humour and poignancy but this author really gets it spot on confronting these issues head-on and imbuing them with the passion and innocence of Joanna - a nineteen year old enjoying life in London for the first time, at the right time.

This book just missed top marks for me due to some issues I had with the ending; I do feel things are wrapped up a little too perfectly, certain issues which before were subtly indicated are rammed in your face, and things are wrapped up in a bow. But, on the other hand, I can't think of a better ending - it was fabulous and feel good fun. This book is a packed with colourful characters and brilliant anecdotes, and it all comes together to form a perfect reminiscence on a youth, a look back on a culture and era on the cusp of change, and it's depicted perfectly.
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I haven't read 'How to Build a Girl' but I didn't feel lost in this sequel. It's very sweary and raw and rude, but very, very readable. In spite of declarations to the contrary I did wonder how much of Johanna is Caitlin...it felt so very personal, and so very real.
It wasn't perfect, but I pretty much devoured it.
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When this book originally came out I assumed it was non-fiction. Yes, I somehow missed the words 'a novel' in bright yellow font on the front. I also hadn't realised this book is the sequel to Caitlin Moran's earlier novel, How to Build a Girl, which I haven't read (something I'm about to remedy very soon!), but it does work as a standalone.

How to be Famous is about a girl called Jo who has reinvented herself as Dolly Wilde and now works as a journalist in London. This is the the 1990s and Britpop is at its height. She is in love with her childhood friend, but as he's now a huge star no one quite believes she knows him. She left home to get away from her family, but now her father's moved in - and expects her to take him to gigs. Her best friend is a singer/songwriter with writer's block, she's fallen into a nasty feud with a famous comedian, and has accidentally made a sex tape. What else could possibly go wrong?

I really enjoyed How to be Famous, which reminded me of Jilly Cooper's early blockbusters, Riders and Polo. I adore books about celebrities and I think it helped that I'm old enough to remember the 90s and got all the references - normally I have to check this stuff with my kids. The story is chock full of brilliant one-liners but also has pertinent things to say about fame and celebrities. It's a coming-of-age story, following Dolly's adventures, from where she feels she has landed in Wonderland to the painful lesson that the unwary can and will be exploited by those who have power. Does she have the strength to fight back? What do you think!

I loved the characters, particularly Dolly. Her breezy self-confidence reminded me of Margo from The Durrells. John, Dolly's rockstar boyfriend, is also very sweet. In short, How to be Famous is brilliantly written, screamingly funny and exuberantly filthy! A five-star read for me!


Thank you to Caitlin Moran and Ebury for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.
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How to be Famous is a throwback to the days of Britpop, music mags, boozy lunches at the Groucho club ,and nights fuelled by cocaine. Our protaganist is Johanna aka Dolly Wilde, a down to earth Wolverhampton girl who is living her dream in London, fully enmeshed in the world of music. Caitlin Moran has the ability to make us laugh out loud with her no holds barred wit. When Johanna's father, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, comes to stay she observes, 'My father's balls are the albatross around my neck. Why must I always be confronted with the place from which I sprang?'

While there are many laugh out loud moments, this story becomes so much more than a romping tale of 90's hedonism. Moran confronts the issue of sex from a feminist point of view in a refreshingly candid way. After a night of bad and disassociative sex, which is recorded by the man in question and shared with the world as revenge, we feel Jo's shame. But then we cheer and holler when she confronts this moment in the noblest possible way. Reflecting on this humiliating episode Jo writes so eloquently about her experience:

'This is what happens, when it feels like the weight of the world is crushing right down on you. You fear it's going to change you forever. And you're right. It is. It's going to turn you into something that is both beautiful, and the most indestructible thing on the planet'.

Gaining strength from confronting her feelings, instead of hiding them, she exposes the man who tried to shame her by showing the world the sex tape and she is then free:

'You know everything about me. And that makes me - free. No woman who has had this happen to her should [carry shame]. The idea that women carry the shame for shameful things that have been done to them is Bible old, and Bible black. This shame is yours Jerry Sharp. You may have it back. It is not mine, and it never was'.

This needs to be read by every man, woman, boy and girl. In a world where porn is readily available this voice needs to be heard, loud and clear. Sex should not be something that is done to a person, it should be mutually enjoyable and everyone should feel they have a voice if something does not feel comfortable. 

Aside from this, How to be Famous also shows us the beauty of friendships, the amazing feeling of beginning to like yourself which in turn leads to wonderful things happening. Ultimately it is a love story. A love story beginning with one's self. But also, how beautiful it is to be brave enough to show your vulnerability -  and when two souls collide who want nothing but to let the person be themselves, how utterly spellbinding this is:

'I have never been under the impression that you are anything other than the most amazing, amusing, singular, determined woman I have ever met...you make my head spin. You make my heart burst. You make my soul explode, every fucking minute i am with you. What I am inescapably heading towards, in this monologue, which might be the last thing I ever say, is: Dutch, I'm in love with you'.
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With thanks to Ebury Press and NetGalley for the ARC.

I've a feeling that a 50+ Male is not the target audience for this novel but I loved it.

18 year old Johanna Morrigan leaves her boring life in a small town and heads to the bright lights of London.
She changes her name to Dolly Wilde and starts working for one of the countrys big music papers.

Life is all good.......

Of course it's not that simple.

Her dad turns up going through a mid life crisis, she makes some very bad decisions and suddenly there's a lot of stuff to sort out.

Set against the backdrop of Brit Pop in the 90's, Dolly is at the heart of all the action.
This of course brings it's own problems, hangers on, sleazy behind the scenes encounters etc.

Dolly has to face some real tough choices and make some huge calls as the story unfolds. Her friends, 
an eclectic and very interesting bunch, each of them brilliantly realised and fully formed, assist in their own unique ways.

This is a brilliant coming of age story, with strong feminist principles.

One of my favourite books of the year so far.
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I'm a big fan of Caitlin Moran, following her on social media & reading her columns, and when I read How to Build a Girl a couple of years ago I really loved it. I'd had one of those days that left me exhausted and emotional and How to Build a Girl somehow put me back together again. It was funny, sad and just so brutally honest and relatable it really resonated with me.

Needless to say when I heard Moran had written a sequel, How to Be Famous, I knew I had to read it. I felt invested in main character Johanna/Dolly and needed to know what was next for her. Unfortunately however, while it has a lot of the same humor, honesty and refreshing uniqueness to it, for me it lost a little of the relatability. It seems to lose the story at times and turn into a series of essays on feminism. When it's in the moment and Johanna is acting it's wonderful but there just isn't enough of this to make a cohesive whole.

The story picks up not long after the end of How to Build a Girl (if you haven't read it I'm not sure it really matters) with Johanna aka Dolly Wilde living what should be her best life in London, writing for a top music magazine but despite getting to meet and interview the famouses, she still feels like she's on the outside. Her best friend and long time crush John Kite has just hit the big time and is constantly on tour, she's not taken seriously at work and her father is having a mid life crisis and using her to relive his youth. Basically she's miserable but rather than moping about (although there is a bit of that) she decides to take action, to become noticed through her writing. Unfortunately though while her writing does start to garner her attention a past encounter with a certain comedian results in her name on everyone's lips for the wrong reasons.

In a lot of ways I really love Johanna, she is one of a kind, incredibly self aware and either determined or deluded, I haven't figured out which. When she decides to do something she commits fully. Who else would decide when the man of their dreams becomes famous that the only solution is to become famous themselves. I love how she fights for what she wants and believes that it will happen. She has no doubts that she'll get a new, better job if she quits her current one or that the letter she writes will open everyone's eyes. She challenges and she pushes and it's brilliant and often hilarious.

On the other side though, she's also only 18 and despite her intention to become a "sex adventurer" fairly inexperienced and very self conscious about her appearance. This leaves her open to manipulation, wary of confrontation and easy to pressure into doing things she doesn't really want to do. There were definitely moments when I worried for her or wanted to shout at her to run or stand up for herself.

She does however develop quite nicely over the course of the story. If How To Build a Girl was the story of her growing up and working out who she wanted to be then How to Be Famous is about her realizing who she is, what's important and what she's willing to do. She has to face her fears and deal with her issues.

So far so good, so where did it go wrong for me? I'm afraid to say it was the writing. As I said, I love Caitlin Moran and think she's a powerful voice for feminism but at times this book wandered away from fiction and into some kind of manifesto. Johanna's job as a journalist and the letters she writes to John create the opportunity for the inclusion of articles on feminism, fame and fangirls among other things. I probably wouldn't have minded this but it felt more like Moran writing from her own point of view rather than Johanna. I also felt like they were a little long-winded and this combined with the other extensive reflections on the 90's, life in London and the music scene had my attention wandering. I'm sure there must have been a more effective way for the author to get the message across.

There's also something very odd going on with the tenses, particularly at the start (although I may just have gotten used to it and stopped noticing). I found myself becoming confused as to when the narration was coming from. At times it's in the moment but at others it's almost like future Johanna reflecting back. It's not however consistent enough to really be either so is very jarring.

I feel like I should also add a warning that this is probably not a book for the easily offended as much like the first book there's lots of swearing and some pretty graphic and realistic sex scenes.

When it is in the moment though it does have some truly magical moments. It is a little bit slow and wandering but I do love the character development and the story. There were moments that made me laugh out loud and others that made me cry.

Overall, I'm glad I read it and would recommend but it could have been so much better.
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For fans of Caitlin Moran with her gritty humour, feminism and working class roots evident in the book. Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me read this book.
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Topical subject matter with regard to the worldwide Me Too campaign. Not one of Moran's best pieces of writing - her non-fiction is so incisive this was a bit of a let down in terms of character development and storyline.
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I loved this so much. (I hadn’t read How to Build a Girl, which was clearly a basic error as How to be Famous is a sequel to that, but by twenty-five per cent in, I’d already dashed off to Amazon to buy the first one, because I was obviously going to love that too.)

Johanna Morrigan, now known as Dolly Wilde, has moved to London to be a teenage music journalist. Like Julie Burchill, but nicer, and in the 1990s. She’s living in a flat with her dog, and working at music paper D&ME, and being in love with the currently unattainable John Kite. A sexual misadventure with toxic comedian Jerry Sharp has appalling and rage-inducing consequences, but Johanna/Dolly isn’t the only one affected. How, if at all, can women fight back?

I really loved the character of Suzanne, who’s both brilliant and brilliantly awful, but had me cheering her on at various points. But I loved Johanna most. She’s an absolute joy as, still only eighteen, she navigates her own path with considerable aplomb (I’m not actually sure what aplomb is, but it’s definitely a good thing and I want it) through what can often be a pretty horrible environment. 

An amazing read, with all the ‘90s music references an added bonus.
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I will admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Caitlin Moran when I started this book, but via Dolly Wilde she has completely won me over! What a fantastic, honest, funny, sad, heartfelt tale of being a teenage girl and navigating everything that comes with that (especially the working class background!). I loved the ending too.
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