Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon - reviewed by Susan Price

Subtitled 'A Decade of Chaos,' this is a light, entertaining, amusing
The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon
book if you like witnessing car-crashes.


Gordon puts herself in front of us - as she realises she always has put herself before her friends - as the comic turn. Yet, at the same time, she resents our laughter at her humiliation, as she always, secretly, resented being invited to her friends' dinner-parties so she could make everyone laugh with her latest disaster. Yet she kept collaborating on the disasters, kept going to the parties, and kept telling the stories. Now she's made them into a book.

However amusingly she relates it, that decade must have been hell to live through.

Almost all the chaos was of her own making, by her own admission. If you insist on spending far more than you earn, on booze, drugs, fags (that's cigarettes to American readers), and designer clothes, then you're going to be constantly in debt and scrounging off your parents at the age of 28, and you're going to be constantly hung-over with aching kidneys. If you refuse to learn to budget, are puzzled by the meaning of 'APR' but don't bother to find out what it means... and so, exhaustingly on.

Gordon recognised that she was too needy and 'too polite' to say no ('be rude') to any and every chancer, loser and user who wanted to shag her while using her place as a free place to stay - but never decided to toughen up, be more discriminating and learn to say, 'Go away.' Every time she's dumped, by text or Facebook, it becomes another funny story to tell her happier friends, and another week of sobbing for her.

It's a character study. It takes you inside the head of a needy, over-romantic, rather spoilt 20-something, who's desperately naive despite being a London journalist (of sorts). Although it bills itself as a comic memoir, it becomes quite dismaying for the reader, as we are made aware of the dislocation between Gordon's public performance and the truth.

The performance is that she's 'a happy singleton' who loves not being tied down, loves being out every night, getting drunk and having casual sex.

The truth is that she is, in fact, lonely and miserable, goes out every night because she can't stand being in her 'dank, dark' flat and has so many flings because she hopes each one will turn into a fairy-tale romance ending in a happy-ever-after marriage and children.

(I don't doubt that there are happy female singletons, drinking and shagging and enjoying every moment, but they are probably tougher, have a lot more self-knowledge and far more cynical realism than Gordon did.)

What I thought the book lacked was any exploration - or, perhaps, even awareness on Gordon's part - of why she was so desperate to be loved. So desperate that she often engineered her own embarrassment by chasing after men who - by their actions - made it very clear that they weren't interested, or weren't worth the effort in the first place. Why was it preferable to  do this, and endure the endless hang-overs, being used, and the embarrassing situations, rather than make some changes? - There had to be some pay-off.

But, although we can make some guesses based on what she tells us, Gordon never really explores this. She simply blames it all on her age. Isn't everyone like this in their twenties? - at 25? - at 29? Well, no.

Even her fairy-tale happy ending - which I am very glad she found - was, by her own account, little to do with any choice or change she made herself. A shining knight, in the guise of an ordinary bloke, simply appeared in her life and made everything nice. She comes over, in this book, as the epitome of The Princess - helpless sobbing while bad things happen to her and hoping someone will come along and rescue her.

Somebody, when she was little, should have told her the fairy-tales with the tough heroines, who go out there and make their own happy endings.

In short: if you had, or have, a car-crash life, you'll find much to sympathise with and laugh about here. If you haven't, you'll find an interesting insight into how to create one. If you should want one.