Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Review: Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham

I'm feeling a bit conflicted about this book. Because I divulged it in 2.5 days. I devoured it like a kid who really likes cake eats cake, except I’m a young adult and the book was only visually consumed. I would have read it quicker except that I had other commitments to attend to, such as work, sleeping and eating. All of this would lead you to think that it's a bloody good book.

At the same time I was left slightly underwhelmed by the end of it. This, I want to clarify, had nothing to do with some of the absurd criticisms the book has received in recent weeks which are deliberately inflammatory and have taken Dunham's comments in her book completely out of context*. I read the book before any of them were made. It's just that it didn't completely kick goals for me.

Not That Kind of Girl is a memoir written by Lena Dunham, the 28 year old writer, director, screenwriter, producer, actress and feminist who has taken the United States by storm. Recently Dunham is most known for writing, directing, producing and acting in the HBO series Girls. Dunham, as well as her work, often polarises people, but I like that about someone - it's generally these people who make you really consider and evaluate where you stand on certain issues due to their lack of conventionality. This book is no exception, as I have alluded to already.

The personal essays in it range from Dunham's love life, to her rejection of school from a young age, to her transition to college and the harsh (and disappointing) realisation that life doesn't really get that much clearer as you get older. Dunham’s writing is so lively and so addictive that you just feel like you’re having a very entertaining one-way conversation with her. I was also particularly impressed with her use of vocabulary, which may sound strange, but I learnt some very neat new words which I had to Google and have included in the image here >>.

At times Dunham's reflections did have the sort of depth I was hoping for as well. Like what it's like to publicly share her body (which, on many occasions, is nude) with millions of others; living with high levels of anxiety; and how to 'play along' and be taken seriously in Hollywood without compromising your values. Then there is Dunham's account of being taken advantage of sexually and the awful confusion and disgust that follows. While I'm not an expert on commenting on such horrific experiences, I do think it's brave of Dunham to give a voice to them.

So then, what more was I after? For me, the book still lacked an element of depth I was hoping to get from it, and perhaps that's due to my own misaligned expectations. Yes, it did reveal lots about Dunham, which you would naturally expect from a memoir. But I think I was hoping for more broader feminist issues to be discussed in more detail in Not That Kind of Girl, particularly for someone with the sorts of experiences Dunham has had as a young woman in Hollywood. But maybe it's unfair of me to have put so much pressure on this book. Who knows?

All in all Not That Kind of Girl is still a book I would recommend fans of Dunham to read, particularly if you enjoy Girls and the character of Hannah Horvath, who Dunham plays in it. It's a funny, unapologetic and perceptive read, and offers a great insight into navigating the confusing world that Dunham's lived in.

And if you're wondering whether Anastacia's 2000 smash hit Not That Kind of Girl got stuck in my head each time I thought of this book, my answer is that yes, yes it did. I've been generous enough to include the song below so that you too can make the same association with it and enjoy the glory of the song while you're thinking of Dunham's book. I hope that neither Lena or Anastacia mind.

*I haven't included the link to the comments because I don't want to bias your reading of the book.

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