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Saturday, 29 August 2015

REVIEW: NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL - LENA DUNHAM


"There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told," writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to "an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw." Fearless, smart, and as heartbreakingly honest as ever, Not That Kind of Girl establishes Lena Dunham as more than a hugely talented director, actress and producer-it announces her as a fresh and vibrant new literary voice. [summary from Goodreads]

My rating: ☆☆☆.5

I'm going to start off by saying that if you dislike Lena Dunham then this book probably isn't going to change your mind, it's so full-on-Dunham that it will probably make you gag. But if you like Girls, or, like me, you love Lena, or you just love excellently written thoughts, then you'll LOVE this.

A lot of people have argued that Lena is too self-indulgent and her book is devoid of real meaning or gravitas, and I believe that these are the same people that Lena refers to early in the book when discussing her decision to write Not that Kind of Girl:

"As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren't needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up."

When I read a lot of these negative reviews, a part of me gets where they're coming from, there were times whilst reading that I did roll my eyes and wonder whether the book was just an "exercise in vanity". But then I reminded myself of this early paragraph and came to my senses; just because these stories might not be politically groundbreaking or emotionally life-changing, why shouldn't they be told? Particularly by someone who tells them so well. Lena's writing is SO tight, her turns of phrase are just excellent and were laugh-out-loud funny enough to have me quoting them to my MOTHER (context: my very sheltered, innocent, catholic mother [!!!]).

I would also argue that there IS a certain kind of wisdom to be found in her words. To read a young woman talking frankly about her body, her mental health, periods and realistic sex is kind of remarkable. In her essays Lena is graphic and above all gut-wrenchingly honest, and I think her frank approach to a lot of issues is something young women (and everyone else) need. Not that Kind of Girl demonstrates that no matter how much is handed to you (and Lena has had a lot handed to her) life is still messy and gross and difficult sometimes. But it's also fun and ridiculous and every situation offers an opportunity to learn, about yourself, about others, about your place in the world.

Despite Lena's intense privilege (successful artist parents, liberal upper-middle-class upbringing in NYC), I actually related to her quite a lot and there's no doubt she's worked damn hard to get to where she is. Situationally, she is worlds away from me, but at times I felt that in a lot of ways her mind works exactly like mine (whether that's a good or bad thing is as yet undecided) and I see myself in many of her reminiscences and observations. There were just so many moments whilst reading where I thought 'yes! It's not just me, someone else thinks like this too!', here's just a couple of those:

"How permanent virginity feels, and then how inconsequential."

"I haven't had a crush on a woman since, unless you count my confusing relationship with Shane from The L Word."

"I didn't know why this was happening. The cruel reality of anxiety is that you never quite do. At the moments it should logically strike, I am fit as a fiddle. On a lazy afternoon, I am seized by a cold dread."

or on slightly more questionable moments; 'yep, been there':

"I cover up this [self] hatred with a kind of aggressive self-acceptance."

(on a story about a toxic relationship) "If I was writing this then, I would have glamorized the whole story for you."

"Throughout the day I often ask myself, Could I fall asleep right now? and the answer is always a resounding yes."

Lena Dunham is sharp, smart and hilarious and her stories, at the very least, are incredibly entertaining. I think that anyone who believes they have a story to tell should tell it, especially if they write so excellently as Lena. So whilst I respect the opinions of all the brutally negative reviewers, I'm going to firmly disagree and state that although Not that Kind of Girl probably won't change your life, it's still bloody brilliant and there's a plethora of good reasons to read and enjoy it.

Have you read Not that Kind of Girl? What did you think?

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