I put off reading Dunham’s book for a long time. It was constantly cropping up on people’s blogs, YouTube channels, and Instagram feeds. I half-heartedly put it on my Christmas list last year, thinking I’d see what the hype was about, but never received a copy. When I was looking for some new books to get stuck into, I came across the paperback on Amazon for about £3.50, and decided it was worth a try.
I’m going to put a disclaimer here, that I am not actually a fan of Dunham’s TV show, Girls. I know, I know. However, it’s not any of the messages in it that bother me, it’s just that I have an overactive cringe reflex, and unfortunately I find Girls very cringey to watch. Sad but true, and so I’ve only ever seen about one and a half episodes of it. Therefore this review of Not That Kind of Girl is not influenced by my like or dislike of the show, nor by my opinion of Dunham herself, as before reading this I knew little about her and her career. This is purely my opinion on the book at hand.
The timeline of the book was truly bizarre. The separate chapters for each area of Dunham’s life (friendship, love, work etc) are clearly signposted, but within them time has little meaning. She jumps from different periods of her life with barely a line separating the sentences, from childhood to present, college to middle school. This also means that different places get confused – one minute she’ll be talking about college in Ohio, the next she’s back in New York and working, then swapping from living with her parents to being at camp. I would normally absolutely hate this, and I have previously discarded books for this very reason. When authors jump between different times and dates, it tends to get confusing. When I’m reading a book, I want to relax and be interested by the information or taken in by the story. I don’t want to be working out whether what I’m reading is before what I just read, after, at the same time, in the same place, or not. Dunham manages to bind this all together, jumping between times and places but keeping a sense of continuity (or no continuity at all). I noticed it, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest. The sections, each devoted to a different topic, also aren’t concrete. Elements of other issues creep in as Dunham gets carried away telling the story. Once again, this barely registers, as the prose is so riveting that as a reader you don’t mind that this isn’t what she’s meant to be saying, or not actually what she’s trying to get at. You just enjoy the extra details gifted to you. That, in itself, is the mark of an excellent read.
Another element that surprised me was how much I wanted to just keep reading. I often couldn’t put this down, and that’s really saying something as I barely have the time to even pick up a book on a good day. It’s surprising because I usually can’t get into celebrity autobiographies. I’ve got both Dawn French’s and Michael McIntyre’s, and despite thinking that they are probably the two funniest people on the planet (along with Miranda, of course), I simply couldn’t get along with their autobiographies. The information was interesting, but they didn’t grip me, or make me want to read on. Clearly, Not That Kind of Girl is not your average autobiography, where someone monotonously records their life so far from start to finish. There’s a sense in Dunham’s work that, despite the wealth of detail she is sharing, there’s still so much more to her that isn’t shown. Chopping and changing between time and place really aids in this, which again grabs the reader, makes them curious, leaves them wanting to know just that little bit more.
It all comes down to the fact that Dunham is simply an excellent writer. She shares enough to keep the reader enthralled, but there’s not a dearth of information. She talks to the reader as an old friend, and yet also as someone she wants to tell secrets to, someone she wants to know more about her, and yet also understand why she’s done the things she’s done, and how everything has shaped the person she is today. Entwined within the events are life lessons which Dunham has discovered, but which are not obviously set out. The reader must do their own thinking before Dunham comes to her eventual ‘conclusion’ on a matter, which never fails to be inspiring and insightful.
This was an immensely enjoyable book to read, and one which I would recommend to anyone who has struggled growing up, who has ever felt left out or out of their depth, or who just wants to read a really great book!