REVIEW: How to be a Heroine

This book and I just clicked. As both a feminist and an avid reader of classics, I simply can't comprehend my love for Samantha Ellis' brilliant, beautifully written and unbelievably insightful read. In many a sense, the only way I can begin to describe How to be a Heroine is that it's like having a tea party with many old friends: at points the book was informal, at times you began to rejudge a character, but always it was a lot of fun.

Author: Samantha Ellis | Publisher: Random House | Pages: 272 | Source: GiftedPart of my Christmas haul | 

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way. And that's when Samantha realised that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? Clearly Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), nostalgia trips (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper....

*I don't normally review non-fiction but… this one's worth it, okay!

MY THOUGHTS: How much you enjoy this book is honestly down to how much you can relate to it. If you're like me and fell dangerously in love with the brutal and passionate Wuthering Heights, ever since yearning to be a wild Cathy as opposed to a more reserved "plain Jane", then you'll love this book. If you finished Little Women, and although you enjoyed it on the whole, couldn't stand the ending Jo March was given, then you'll love this book. If you're a feminist who's obsessed with heroines on the whole, then you'll enjoy this book. If you're a self-confessed classics-addict, then you'll enjoy this book. If you want to read an autobiographical account of a woman who grew up in an Iraqi–Jewish community and is looking back on her life through the eyes of her heroines, then you'll love this book. If you've said no to all of these then: A) WHAT?! and B) this book most definitely isn't for you.

How to be a Heroine is one of those books I, personally, wish I had written. The chapter about Anne Shirley had me nodding throughout, as did the chapter about Esther Greenwood, and I was laughing through the tears (or crying through the chuckles, it was difficult to tell) as I read about Lizzy Bennet… she's always been my heroine, you see – or one of them, at very least. It's just blatantly obvious that the author has such a passion for literature and, from one reader to another, her sheer enthusiasm for these heroines is something I understand all too well.

"I'm beginning to think that all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need for them at the time."

Samantha Ellis dissects each heroine fully, not only discussing what she learnt from them at that point of her life, but also criticising the authors for some of their choices. And, if anything, it really is a celebration of these intelligent, headstrong, complex characters and how they help us to decode the world around us.

As you can see, I'm struggling to coherently express my love for this book, but surely that fact alone should persuade you to pick it up… right? I'll have a follow-up post coming soonish, where I'll go through a list of my fictional heroines, but for a now, all I can say is: if this book sounds like one you might enjoy, then please, please don't hesitate to give it a go.

Favourite Quotations:    
"The Little Mermaid is in the bath, with her tail still on, singing because she never did give up her soaring voice. Anne Shirley and Jo March are having a furious argument about plot versus character, gesticulating with ink-stained hands. Scarlett is in the living room, her skirts taking up half the space, trying to show Lizzy how to bat her eyelashes. Lizzy is laughing her head off but Scarlett has acquired a sense of humour, and doesn’t mind a bit. Melanie is talking books with Esther Greenwood, who has brought her baby and also the proofs of her first poetry collection. Franny and Zooey have rolled back the rug and are doing a soft shoe shuffle in rhinestone hats. Lucy Honeychurch is hammering out some Beethoven…"

In One Word?
Why? 
At times, I couldn't help but hold the most foolish, crooked smile as I read this book: it genuinely did sounds like the author was writing a transcript of my thoughts… just, worded better! I've had many of the same issues with certain heroines, and I love many of the others for the very same reasons – Samantha Ellis just delves deeper and records these ideas in an accessible and fascinating way!



13 comments:

  1. Great review, Ruby! I'm going to go add this to my Goodreads TBR. I'm not a classics fanatic, but I love my heroines, and I also strongly believe in Women's rights, so I think this sounds like the type of book I might love to read! It may also convert me into a classics fanatic..Who knows? XD

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    1. Hehe maybe it will do! And yes, if you love your heroines then it's definitely worth a go. :)

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  2. I HAVE TO READ THIS IMMEDIATELY AND AT ONCE. From your description it just ticks ALL of my boxes - thank you for the review!

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    1. YES YOU DO MAYA, YES YOU DO! You will LOOOOOVE it!

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  3. I feel like this is a book I will definitely want to check out after I read the classics. I've pretty much only read Little Women so I don't think I would be able to get into this one until later. Glad you enjoyed it though!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

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    1. Thank you! After you've read a few of the classics, it's definitely a good one to check out. :D

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  4. I NEED THIS BOOK IN MY LIFE! OMG it sounds absolutely amazing! I only heard about it from your birthday haul and I was so intrigued. I added it to my wishlist and now after reading this review I am going to be adding it to my shopping basket, hehe.

    This sounds like one of those books that will make you smile whenever you read it. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, Ruby! Great review!

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    1. Thank you Zoe & YES YOU NEED IT IN YOUR LIFE! :) I hope you get a chance to borrow/buy it soon-ish. :)

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  5. Great review! It sounds completely different to every other book I've ever read, and will be definitely trying it out!

    Latest blog post; http://awkwarddonkey.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/and-then-it-hit-me-winnie-pooh-mental.html

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    1. Thank you Amy, glad you enjoyed the review!

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  6. This book sounds great, and so unique! I will definitely be picking it up, as who wouldn't want to have a book that reminds you of a tea-party with old friends?

    Thank you for reviewing this, Ruby!

    -Sophie :)

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    1. Just saw your latest post and, judging from that, I'm sure you'll love this one! Oh and you're welcome! ^.^

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    2. Wow, this looks so good! I'll admit I love classics but probably don't read enough of them.... this sounds like an amazing mixture of famous heroines- I really need to read this and all the books referenced in this!:D Such a brilliant review, Ruby- I loved it. *Adds to the wishlist*
      -Gee;)

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